Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman says farmers will be able to apply for an additional $275 million in funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) as part of USDA's ongoing effort to enhance conservation efforts on U.S. farms.
The announcement was one of several newsworthy items in a press conference that ranged from the department's implementation of the 2002 farm bill to the granting of its request for a stay in the beef checkoff lawsuit.
“These additional (EQIP) funds will enable farmers and ranchers to enhance and protect our nation's soil, air and water resources for the future by implementing sound conservation practices today,” said Veneman. “Farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of the land, and this administration continues its strong commitment in providing additional tools to enhance conservation efforts on working farmlands.”
Veneman said $200 million is being provided for general enrollment for EQIP for fiscal 2002. She also announced the availability of up to an additional $25 million of EQIP funds in fiscal 2002 to provide technical and financial assistance for ground and surface water conservation.
An additional $50 million of EQIP funds are being made available to carry out water conservation activities in the Klamath Basin in California and Oregon.
The 2002 farm bill includes major changes in EQIP to help farmers and ranchers live up to newer and higher environmental standards, encourage sound conservation and improve the ability of farmers and ranchers to protect wetlands, water quality and wildlife habitat.
These changes include:
- Making the program available to more landowners by eliminating the concentration of funding to certain areas.
- Optimizing environmental benefits based on national, state and local resource priorities.
- Eliminating the competitive bidding process, thus allowing small and limited resource farmers to compete on an equal basis with larger producers.
- Removing the 1,000-animal-unit limitation on livestock operations eligible to receive financial assistance.
- Streamlining the application and planning process.
- Decreasing the minimum EQIP contract length from five years to one year after the last practice is installed. (Maximum contract length remains the same at 10 years.)
- Allowing a producer to receive payment after the first practice is installed. Previously a landowner could not receive payment for practices installed during the first year of the contract period.
- Establishing a maximum payment limitation of $450,000 for the total of EQIP contracts entered into by an individual or entity. This flexibility will accommodate today's cost of business and will help producers comply with newer and higher environmental standards.
- Providing for incentive payments to producers to develop and implement comprehensive nutrient management plans for confined livestock feed operations.
USDA will, in the near future, issue a proposed rule for the EQIP program for fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2007.
For more information about EQIP and other conservation programs is available at local USDA Service Centers and local conservation district offices. Information also is available on the Internet at: http://www.usda.gov/farmbill.