Equip Organic Initiative Program
USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced a second sign up this spring for taking applications for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative Program. Applications are accepted anytime at Kansas county NRCS offices. January 18, 2013 is the first sign up deadline, but other dates may be announced later.
Established nationwide in the 2008 Farm Bill, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Organic Initiative under the existing Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to farmers transitioning to organic production and certification. It also provides assistance to existing organic farmers who need to adopt conservation measures to make environmental improvements to already certified organic farms.
Transitioning farmers must develop an Organic System Plan (OSP). The OSP is the management plan for organic production that meets certification requirements that were established with the National Organic Program. EQIP payments are for implementation of conservation practices that help growers meet their OSP and organic certification, or help existing organic growers address identified natural resource concerns. Both transitioning or existing certified organic farmers can apply for the EQIP Organic Initiative.
Program assistance is limited to $20,000 per year and $80,000 over a six-year period. The Kansas State Conservationist and NRCS staff have developed a list of conservation practices offered through the initiative. Kansas’ list is fairly inclusive of possible practices, including conservation crop rotations, cover crops, nutrient management, pest management, prescribed grazing, forage harvest management, plus many more.
One new practice included in the 2010 and 2011 program in Kansas is the Seasonal High Tunnel System for Crops or hoop houses. (See www.hightunnels.org for more information on high tunnels.) Funds are limited to $4,000 per agricultural operation.
- Farmers who produce an annual minimum of $1000 of agricultural products. (There are no minimum acreage requirements to apply for EQIP).
- Farmers just beginning or in the process of transitioning to organic production;
- Existing certified organic farmers who want to transition additional acres or animals;
- Existing certified organic farmers who need to adopt additional conservation measures;
- Producers who sell less than $5,000 in agricultural products and are thus exempt from formal certification are still eligible for Organic Initiative payments:
Applications can be submitted anytime throughout the year.
To apply for the EQIP Organic Initiative, farmers and ranchers must contact their local NRCS office and submit the general EQIP application and a screening criteria worksheet for either “Transition to Organic” or for a “Certified Organic Operation”.
Producers who have not participated in federal farm programs (such as some market garden operations) will need to sign up with their local Farm Services Administration Office to determine eligibility for federal farm programs. Forms for the EQIP Organic Initiative plus the FSA eligibility are available at the local NRCS office or FSA office, or online. The important thing is to contact the local county NRCS office and sign up! Details of the application can be developed later.
Farmers already certified organic who are applying must submit a copy of their current organic system plan (OSP) and maintain certification through the length of the EQIP contract. Transitioning organic farmers must certify that they are in the process of obtaining organic certification, and submit a self-certification letter stating that they agree to develop and implement conservation practices for certified organic production consistent with an organic system plan, and that they are working with an organic certifying agency.
According to the national NRCS guidance, applications will be treated as two separate ranking pools, one for transitioning farmers and ranchers without any current certified organic production and another for certified organic farmers who need additional conservation practices. Funding is not guaranteed, as EQIP is a competitive program. But the separate EQIP Organic Initiative allows applicants to be ranked against other organic or transitioning to organic farmers, and not against the much larger pool of all EQIP applicants.
Resources of Concern
The purpose of USDA NRCS programs is to address conservation, environmental and resource concerns or problems.
The EQIP Organic Initiative, like all EQIP provisions, must address a significant resource of concern on your farm. In Kansas these include: water quality, water quantity, soil quality or condition, plant condition, pest management, air quality, pollinator habitat, and fish and wildlife.
How to Apply:
- Contact your local USDA NRCS office to fill out the EQIP application forms and the screening applications for the Organic Initiative to begin the process.
- Producers who have not participated in federal farm programs (such as many market garden operations) will need to sign up with their local Farm Services Administration Office (often housed in or near the NRCS offices) to determine eligibility for federal farm programs. These include the Conservation Program Application (CCC-1200), an Adjusted Gross Income Certification form (CCC926); and a Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Certification (AD-1026).
- Screening Criteria Worksheet for the EQIP Organic Initiative.
There are separate worksheets for transitioning farmers and for those already certified organic.
- Transitioning farmers must submit a self-certification letter stating that you agree to develop and implement an organic system plan; and existing organic farmers must provide a copy of their OSP (Organic System Plan).
RESOURCES for the EQIP Organic Initiative:
These files are available as PDF downloads
What are the Basic Requirements for Organic Certification
by Jim Riddle, University of MN, and Miles Envoy, WA Department of Agriculture, Dec., 20, 2006.
Organic System Plan Overview
by Brian Baker Organic Materials Institute
ATTRA Certification Process
Loan Opportunity for Non-Organic Hoop Houses:
If organic production is not the strategy that you want to pursue for your farming operation, as is required by the USDA NRCS EQIP Organic Initiative, the Kansas Department of Commerce’s Agriculture Value Added Loan program is an excellent resource for expanding your operation. For those interested in greenhouses or hoop houses to extend their production season, the Value Added loan is available. This loan charges no interest for the first two years and then the rate is locked in at 1 percent over the prime rate for the remainder of the loan. There is no penalty for early payment. If you would like more information about the loan program, contact Mari Tucker at (785) 296-6080 or firstname.lastname@example.org