February 11, 2015
Sixty farm and conservation organizations including many NSAC member and partner organizations joined in a letter to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recommending several changes to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to increase EQIP’s ability to improve sustainability, optimize the program’s cost-effectiveness, better serve organic farmers, and support a shift toward more environmentally sound agricultural practices.
In particular, the letter questioned the agency’s continued practice of providing substantial EQIP funding for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). They recommended the agency apply greater scrutiny to the use of conservation dollars for new and expanding CAFOs by retaining the ability for Regional Conservationists to approve or deny such projects; assessing the net environmental impacts of CAFO spending; requiring the completion of a comprehensive nutrient management plan as a perquisite to receiving funds for animal waste storage, treatment, or transfer; and ending the practice of CAFO-only application pools at the state level.
The groups urged NRCS to focus on sustainable livestock management – including rotational grazing, forage management, and infrastructure to protect stream and lakes from livestock impacts – and work with program participants to build more resilient agricultural systems. As the letter notes, this is particularly important given that “in many parts of the country, farmers are experiencing the effects of drought, unusually high temperatures, and intense rain events. Climate change threatens to exacerbate such extremes and deepen our vulnerability to their impacts on agriculture.” NRCS can play an important role in building more resilient agricultural systems both by “encouraging adoption of climate-friendly practices, and by providing the resources necessary to shift farmers and ranchers away from production practices and systems that increase their vulnerability to weather extremes.”
The groups also recognized NRCS’ efforts to improve offerings and outreach to organic and transitioning-to-organic producers. They encouraged the agency to continue its efforts to engage with these producers, and to clarify program payment rules, to ensure their participation in EQIP continues to grow.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) also submitted comments on the EQIP Interim Rule addressing these points, among others. NSAC’s comments are available here.
The opportunity to comment on the EQIP Interim Rule ended on February 11, 2015. The interim rule was issued to integrate changes to the program in light of the 2014 Farm Bill