Every five years, the U.S. Congress reviews or rewrites the farm bill, shaping U.S. Department of Agriculture programs for upcoming years. Past farm bills have established voluntary programs within USDA that seek to improve environmental quality and conservation. Several of these programs include incentives related to irrigation systems and water used for irrigation.
The Irrigation Association actively advocates for voluntary farm conservation programs that
- support efficient irrigation, including new installations and improvements to existing systems.
- encourage adoption of other water-efficient technologies in states facing severe and prolonged drought.
- qualify IA-certified irrigation professionals to work as USDA-approved technical service providers for on-farm irrigation systems.
During Congress’ consideration of the 2018 Farm Bill, the IA’s efforts focused on conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
Environmental Quality Incentives Program
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is a voluntary conservation title program under the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers who face threats to soil, water, air and related natural resources on their land. Through EQIP, NRCS provides financial incentives to producers to
- promote agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible goals.
- optimize environmental benefits.
- help farmers and ranchers meet federal, state, tribal and local environmental regulations.
2018 Farm Bill changes:
- USDA may now enter into a contract with irrigation districts and groundwater management districts, rather than individual producers.
- Priority is given to applications that reduce water use.
- New on-farm innovation trials under the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) subprogram can include projects that focus on precision agriculture and irrigation systems.
- Funding is increased from $1.75 billion in FY 2019 to $2.025 billion in FY 23, a $1 billion increase over the life of the 2018 Farm Bill vs. the 2014 Farm Bill.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is another voluntary conservation program under the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Through RCPP, the NRCS works with partner organizations to enhance farming, ranching or forestry operations and increase the sustainable use of natural resources. Organizations eligible to partner with and participate in RCPP include
- state and local governments.
- conservation groups.
- agricultural producer associations.
- water and irrigation districts.
- municipal water entities.
- higher education institutions.
- American Indian tribes and other nongovernmental organizations.
RCPP is not a typical grants program. Instead, RCPP provides partner organizations a combination of financial and technical assistance from the NRCS to complete a proposed project. Importantly, a goal of RCPP is to leverage funds in order to double the federal investment in conservation programs. Partner organizations are expected to provide a “significant contribution” toward the overall cost of a project, and the NRCS will give preference to applications that can provide funds equal to or greater than the amount requested from RCPP.
When applying to RCPP, organizations must select one of two funding pools to apply to. The funding pools are split 50/50:
- critical conservation areas (CCA) – projects in eight high-need geographic areas
- multistate projects – projects that don’t fit into the CCA pool
The 2018 Farm Bill increased funding for RCPP to $300 million annually and removed the prior funding structure that siphoned funds from the other farm bill conservation programs.