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New Conservation Program Hotline
Find out your options for CRP, EQIP and CFO.

4/22/97: The Center for Rural Affairs is re-activating its Conservation Options Hotline to assist farmers and ranchers wanting to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the new Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Conservation Farm Option (CFO).

"The 1996 Farm Bill made major changes in the popular CRP and completely reformed the conservation cost-share and incentive payments programs," says Duane Hovorka, Elmwood, Neb., who works on the hotline. (See New Conservation Options, below.) "The new USDA programs provide a variety of tools for achieving conservation on the farm. Land retirement, incentive payments, and grants for testing and demonstrating innovative conservation ideas are opportunities for farmers to achieve their conservation goals.

"Because the programs are new and rules are very different than in the past, we expect some confusion over how the programs are to work," Hovorka adds.

The Conservation Options Hotline is a service of the Walthill, Neb.-based Center for Rural Affairs, in cooperation with the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, a network of grassroots sustainable agriculture, environmental, church, rural and food organizations. The Conservation Options Hotline telephone number is (402) 994-2021.

New Conservation Options

New Ground Rules -- The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

The CRP has been a popular program with farmers but not as cost-effective as it could be. The Farm Bill continued the program but Congress has clearly stated that future enrollments must get the maximum environmental benefit for the money. The program will maximize environmental benefit per dollar spent by encouraging partial field enrollments with high environmental value and reforming rental payment rates.

Partial field enrollments are encouraged through continuous enrollment and bonus payments. In the past farmers could only sign up for the CRP a few times a year. Bonus payments will encourage enrollments by compensating farmers for taking what is likely to be highly productive land out of production, and for the increased management required to maintain conservation practices. These partial field practices include:
  • filterstrips
  • riparian buffers
  • contour grass strips
  • shelterbelts
  • field windbreak
  • living snow fences
  • grassed waterways
  • salt-tolerant vegetation
  • shallow areas for wildlife
Rental payments will be reformed by bringing them closer to average cash rents in a county.

New Game: Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

EQIP consolidates existing conservation programs into a single program. Five- to 10-year contracts will provide:
  • technical assistance
  • cost-share payments
  • incentive payments
  • education
  • Crop farms and moderate-size livestock farms are eligible.
  • Contracts will include conservation plans approved by the Secretary of Agriculture.
Payment Limitations:
  • $10,000 for any fiscal year
  • $50,000 for a multi-year contract
EQIP funding is split between projects and individual requests. States submit priority areas or projects within a specific geographic area, as well as more general natural resource concerns for the state.

For example, last summer in Nebraska, Natural Resource Districts were asked to identify priority area projects for EQIP funds, and to identify general natural resources concerns for their district. Projects and natural resources concerns were also identified by participants on the State Technical Committee. Funding will be split between priority area projects (65 percent) and statewide natural resource concerns (35 percent) for applications outside of a priority area.

Half of EQIP funds ($100 million) will to go to livestock producers. The livestock portion of EQIP also addresses soil erosion concerns, forage health, water quality, etc. Practices such as rotational grazing, composting, aerobic digestion, dry bedding, and various methods of land application that prevent erosion and incorporate nutrients at agronomic rates should be eligible for cost sharing under EQIP.

New Program: Conservation Farm Option (CFO)

This new program was created to foster innovation in natural resource protection and enhancement including:
  • soil and water conservation
  • water quality improvement
  • wetlands restoration, protection, and creation
  • wildlife habitat development and protection
  • other similar conservation purposes.
CFO contracts and payments run for 10 years. The program is designed as a "one plan, one sign up, one check" option that is not restricted by existing conservation program rules and will be administered as a competitive grants program.

Questions? Contact Duane Hovorka at the Center for Rural Affairs Conservation Hotline: (402) 994-2021

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