USDA Invites Input on Environmental Quality Incentives Program Rule

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim rule for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), USDA’s flagship program that helps producers plan and implement 150-plus conservation practices on working lands. The rule – now available on the Federal Register – takes effect upon publication and includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill.

Submit comments on or before February 17, 2020.

Changes to EQIP include creating incentive contracts and payments for incentive practices to better support locally led conservation needs.

Ranking criteria for the Kentucky program are available at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/ky/home/.

Editor’s note:  Below are excerpts from the federal notice of interest to woodland owners and watershed areas.

Nonindustrial private forest land (NIPF) means rural land, as determined by NRCS, that has existing tree cover or is suitable for growing trees; and is owned by any nonindustrial private individual, group, association, corporation, Indian Tribe, or other private legal entity that has definitive decision-making authority over the land.

The statutory changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill include introducing new EQIP Incentive Contracts, which can address up to three priority resource concerns for each of the relevant land uses within state-identified watersheds or other areas of high priority. NRCS may also enter into EQIP contracts under a streamlined contracting process with “water management entities” to implement water conservation or irrigation practices under a watershed-wide project that will effectively conserve water, provide fish and wildlife habitat, or provide for drought-related environmental mitigation.

NRCS received comments focusing on increased payments for high-priority practices, most of which underlined the inclusion of practices that address the goals of state wildlife action plans and other state and local plans involving watershed rehabilitation and drought management.

Sections in new Subpart D – EQIP Incentive Contracts

Subpart D is a new subpart and addresses the new enrollment option, EQIP incentive contracts, as created by section 2304 of the 2018 Farm Bill. This new subpart has the following sections:

  •  1466.41 Incentive Contract Selection

Incentive practices that qualify will depend on future determinations by a state conservationist with input from the state technical committees as to what the high priority areas are and what the (up to) three priority resource concerns are for each land use within each high priority area.

Eligible land means land on which agricultural commodities, livestock, or forest-related products are produced, and specifically includes nonindustrial private forest land and cropped woodland.