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IRA Rollout Begins: Conservation Program Application Dates Change

February 24, 2023


Photo credit: NRCS

On August 16, 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law. The IRA is a far-reaching health care, tax, and climate bill which makes historic investments in a wide array of federal programs to address the climate crisis and aims to reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030. Consequently, it represents a meaningful step forward on addressing the climate crisis and reflects key priorities lifted up by the farmers and communities that NSAC’s members serve.

The IRA contains roughly $20 billion worth of funding for agriculture conservation. This generational investment falls within the popular and often oversubscribed traditional U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) working lands conservation programs, or programs that are designed to support producers making changes to their operations that improve conservation outcomes on their farms. The IRA funds four key conservation programs: the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

As of February 13, USDA began enrolling producers in working lands conservation programs using IRA funding. This blog post covers a few points farmers and food and agriculture system professionals need to know about how to access IRA funds in CSP and EQIP, and how these conservation programs will be affected.

For Farmers:

IRA funding is already available through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In order to access this funding, producers need to call their local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office and ask about applying to either program.

In addition to the “new” IRA funding, both CSP and EQIP also have normal Farm Bill funding available. This means there is more money to support conservation through these programs than at any time in perhaps the last 10 years. Farmers should strongly consider applying to both programs, even if they have been unsuccessful in the past, as this year may be the best in recent memory to secure a new contract. 

In both CSP and EQIP, IRA funds will be targeted at conservation practices and activities on this list created by NRCS, and farmers implementing them will be first in line for IRA funding. These farmers may also be awarded CSP and EQIP contracts faster than producers implementing conservation practices not on the list. IRA funds can also support practices that facilitate or support practices on the NRCS list.

NRCS is still able to fund all conservation practices this year. Since there are both IRA and Farm Bill funds available in CSP and EQIP this year, farmers will be able to use both programs to implement whichever practices and enhancements make the most sense for their farm, regardless of where the money comes from. Due to the sharp increase in total funds available, all applications should be more competitive this year.

For farmers accessing IRA dollars, there will be one additional form to complete along with normal program application materials. This form, called IRA Addendum to Appendix to Form NRCS-CPA-1202, is only two pages long and requires little more than a producer’s signature. Producers who are awarded a CSP or EQIP contract funded through the IRA will also receive an IRA Application Approval Letter confirming that their contract was paid for through the IRA.

Finally, every state has updated their application process to give farmers an extended opportunity to apply for IRA funding through CSP and EQIP. To see the newly published application dates for your state, check this national list of program application dates or call your local NRCS office. Some states have pushed application dates as far back as May, but many close as soon as March 10. This is a large shift, as many states originally closed ranking periods for one or both programs last fall. It is best to get in touch with NRCS as soon as possible to have the best chance at accessing IRA funding. Even farmers who applied ahead of the old ranking dates may want to consider reconnecting with their local NRCS office in light of IRA funding.

For Conservation Professionals:

The National NRCS Office has expressed strong interest in partnering with BIPOC lead conservation partners at the state level, both through cooperative agreements and alternative funding arrangements with tribal governments, in the implementation of IRA funding. Now is a great time to check in with your State Conservationist on both of these elements of IRA implementation.

Individual states have received guidance and funding allocations from National NRCS at this time. Guidance includes instructions to create spending plans and ranking criteria for IRA funding pools in both CSP and EQIP in each state. Now is a great time to reach out to your State Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) or State Conservationist to learn about your state’s plans for IRA funding.

As part of guidance to states, NRCS has recommended states limit the use of payment caps for individual conservation practices when spending IRA funding. NSAC is concerned about the potential risk this creates for large contracts supporting less than ideal practices, like methane digesters. If you share similar concerns about NRCS targeting outsized amounts of funding on costly and questionable conservation practices, contact your state NRCS officials.

NRCS has publicly shared a directive outlining some initial guidance for implementing IRA dollars in all the funded conservation programs. For those that want to dig into the details, see that directive here. NRCS has also produced a one-page IRA Fact Sheet to help promote IRA rollout.

While this blog post focuses exclusively on CSP and EQIP, funds are also available through a national ACEP sign up, which we will cover more thoroughly in a separate post. Funding will also be available through a new RCPP competition, which we expect will be announced in the coming months.

NSAC applauds NRCS for their work in implementing the IRA, and is excited to see this historic funding make its way to producers across the country. We look forward to seeing on the ground successes in the coming years and opportunities to continue to address climate change through our nation’s conservation programs.


Categories: Carousel, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Grants and Programs


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