As the new fiscal year begins, states have begun to set Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 “ranking deadlines” for enrollment in farm bill conservation programs and initiatives. These dates are important for farmers and ranchers to be aware of if they are considering applying for conservation funding.
While many USDA conservation programs offer continuous enrollments, meaning that producers can sign up at any time, producers need to apply by the ranking deadline in order to be considered for funding in FY 2013.
For the “working lands” conservation programs, state NRCS offices are able to choose one or more of the following ranking dates: October 19, November 16, December 21, January 18, February 15, March 15, April 19, and May 17.
These batching date options apply to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and EQIP initiatives such as the Organic Initiative and the On-farm Energy Initiative, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) program, and Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI). Some states have also opted to add conservation easement programs such as Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) to the same cut-off dates.
As more states begin to select their dates, farmers and ranchers should be on notice that in some locations there may be a relatively short application window.
We should also hasten to add that the status of the CSP enrollment for 2013 is up in the air, given an extremely unfortunate and entirely unnecessary funding cut in the recent continuing resolution which has at least temporarily left the CSP almost no money to enroll new acres in FY 2013. Hopefully Congress will correct the glitch when it returns to Washington after election day.
It is also important to stress that as of October 1, the WRP, GRP, and Conservation Reserve Program lack legislative authority to enroll new acres. To read more about that, visit our post on farm bill expiration. This problem could be solved in December if Congress agrees either to a new farm bill or to a farm bill extension.
From what is available online, the following states have made formal announcements so far:
- Alabama: October 19 for CSP**, EQIP, EQIP subprograms and initiatives, GRP**, WHIP, and WRP**
- Delaware: October 19 for EQIP, WHIP, and AMA
- Pennsylvania: October 19 for all programs, including CSP**
- South Carolina: October 19 and February 15 for the EQIP Organic Initiative, On-farm Energy Initiative, and Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative.
- California: November 16 for EQIP and CCPI
- Maine: December 21 for EQIP initiatives including the Organic Initiative
- New York: January 18 for CSP**
[** Despite the announcements, the dates for these programs will likely change given that they are temporarily shut down for new enrollments until Congress deals with the farm bill.]
We anticipate that within a week or two NRCS will distribute one or more national bulletins to guide states in implementing these programs. Last year’s national bulletin for the EQIP Organic Initiative, for example, specified a minimum practice list of more than 60 conservation practice standards and outlined the process for developing ranking questions.
Given the short time frame and the difficulty of reaching out to farmers in the midst of a busy season, NSAC strongly recommends that states do not choose October 19 as their only ranking cutoff date. If a state is unable to to use its program allocation by the initial deadline, it can and should announce an additional ranking date and continue to take enrollments. Avoiding October 19, however, and focusing on November through March from the outset, could improve outreach and reduce problems in the long run.
Members and interested readers are encouraged to reach out to their state NRCS offices to get more information regarding FY 2013 ranking dates. We also recommend that you begin conducting preliminary outreach to producers to let them know that the FY 2013 sign up may be fast approaching.