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USDA Announces Two New Conservation Initiatives

February 23, 2012

USDA recently announced two new initiatives, the Highly Erodible Cropland Initiative within the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the expanded On-Farm Energy Audits Initiative within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

The Highly Erodible Cropland Initiative, which USDA Secretary Vilsack announced Tuesday, will enable producers to plant wildlife-friendly, long-term cover on cropland with an erodibility index of 20 or greater.  An erodibility index of 20 signifies a very high rate of erosion.  For comparison, land must only meet an erodibility of 8 to qualify as Highly Erodible Land (HEL).  USDA will enroll up to 750,000 acres through the initiative.

A soil survey along with geographic information system data will determine eligibility for the initiative.  Beginning this summer, producers can continuously enroll land through the CRP at their local Farm Service Agency office.  Currently, there is no information about whether there will be a limit on size of parcel within the initiative or how the agency will divide continuous enrollment acres between highly erodible land management, contour, riparian and other forms of buffer strips, and other uses.

USDA also recently announced a renewal of the national On-Farm Energy Initiative, which is an expansion of its existing support for on-farm energy audits through EQIP.  The On-Farm Energy Initiative was first funded in 2010, when approximately $450,000 went out the door.  At that time, the initiative only provided support for on-farm energy audits.  In FY 2012, the initiative will allocate roughly $3 million in EQIP funds for a broader array of uses.  According to reports, demand for the program has already far exceeded available funding.

NRCS offices will provide two types of on-farm energy audits as well as eleven conservation practices  aimed at helping farmers produce energy savings.  As part of the expanded initiative, state NRCS offices will provide implementation assistance and offer all practices in the initiative, though states do have the option to request an exemption from having offering the required practices.

The On-Farm Energy Initiative provides technical and financial assistance to identify and implement energy conservation strategies.  The initiative will not provide support for on-farm energy production.  A headquarters audit analyzes the energy conservation of farm equipment and facilities, and estimates cost and emissions reductions.  A landscape audit addresses energy expended in agriculture practices and field operations.  Both plans assess the baseline of current energy usage and include recommended conservation measures.

NRCS has established application ranking periods for the energy initiative during which eligible applications for FY 2012 will be ranked and evaluated for funding.  The first ranking deadline has already passed:

Application Period  Submission Deadline: Friday, February 3, 2012
Application Period 2 Submission Deadline: Friday, March 30, 2012
Application Period 3 Submission Deadline: Friday, June 1, 2012

For more information the On-Farm Energy Initiative, read USDA’s recent Press Release.  You can find links to the fact sheet, national guidance, list of conservation practices, and more on NRCS’ website for the initiative.

You can also read USDA’s press release announcing the Highly Erodible Cropland Initiative.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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