The 2008 Farm Bill includes special participation incentives and improved access for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in the two major working lands conservation programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
The 2008 Farm Bill provides $7.325 billion in mandatory funding for EQIP for the years 2008-2012. The conservation access provision requires 5 percent of that total funding to be set aside for beginning farmers and ranchers and another 5 percent for socially disadvantaged producers.
Similarly, the 2008 Farm Bill reauthorizes the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and directs the Secretary to enroll 13 million acres in the program each year (through 2017) with an average payment of $18 per acre per year. A conservation access provision in CSP requires that 5 percent of acres enrolled be made available for beginning farmers and ranchers and another 5 percent of acres for socially disadvantaged producers.
Any set-aside funds or acres that are not used by a certain date during the fiscal year (to be determined by the Secretary of Agriculture) will be re-pooled so that they can be used by other producers in the programs.
In addition to the funding set-aside, both beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are eligible for special higher EQIP payment rates than other farmers. EQIP payments are generally limited to not more than 75 percent of the cost of the conservation practices involved, but for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers the top limit is 90 percent.
The farm bill also mandates that the difference between the normal rate and the special rate must be at least 25 percent. For instance, if the regular payment rate for a particular practice in a particular county is 50 percent, the special rate must be at least 75 percent.
Also, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are eligible to receive up to 30 percent of their total payment in advance to help cover their upfront costs for materials and contracting.
2008 Farm Bill Changes
The conservation funding set-asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged producers are new with the 2008 Farm Bill.The higher EQIP payment rates authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill are similar to the 2002 Farm Bill, except for the provision that the difference between the regular rate and the beginning and socially disadvantaged rate must be at least 25 percent and the provision for advanced payments.Higher payment rates from the 2002 Farm Bill for beginning farmers within the CSP no longer apply.
The higher payment rates for beginning and socially disadvantaged producers in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program are authorized by Section 2503 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (FCEA) of 2008 which amends Section 1240B(d)(4) of the Food Security Act of 198, to be codified at 16 U.S.C. Section 3839aa-2(d)(4).
The new conservation set-asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged producers in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program are authorized by Section 2704 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (FCEA) of 2008 which amends Section 1241 of the Food Security Act of 1985, to be codified at 16 U.S.C. Section 3841(g).
For the period 2008-2012, the 2008 Farm Bill provides $7.325 billion in mandatory funding for the EQIP and sufficient mandatory funding for the CSP to enroll approximately 13 million acres a year.5 percent of those amounts, or approximately $366 million of EQIP and $58 million per year (or about 3.25 million acres) of CSP, will be reserved for use by beginning farmers and by socially disadvantaged farmers.In each fiscal year, unused funds from the separate beginning farmer and socially disadvantaged farmer competitions will be returned to the general pool part way through the fiscal year.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) issued an interim final rule for EQIP on January 15, 2009, which took effect immediately. A correction to the interim final rule provision for payment limits for joint operations was issued on March 12, 2009. The agency took public comments on this interim final but has not yet issued a final rule for the program.
The USDA released a final rule on June 3rd, 2010. Farmers and ranchers wanting to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program in fiscal year 2010 had until June 25th to file an application form with their local NRCS office.“ For additional information, see the CSP section in this Grassroots Guide.
In addition, the USDA Small Farms Program has established a webpage with a self-assessment tool for limited resource farmers, or those advising limited resources farmers, to assess their eligibility for conservation set asides and incentives.
USDA website for the Conservation Stewardship Program.
USDA website for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program
Access your state NRCS office here
Access the self-assessment tool for limited resource farmers here