With respect to the 2018 farm bill, the IA’s efforts focus on conservation programs. In particular, the IA advocates for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
In August, the IA released a document outlining its priorities for the 2018 farm bill. Be sure to share this priorities document with your members of Congress. Go to the IA’s Legislative Action Center for a template letter and easy way to reach out to your members. The Irrigation Association will continue its advocacy efforts throughout the farm bill process.
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.
The 2014 farm bill gives priority to
- water conservation or irrigation efficiency applications that reduce water use.
- projects where the producer agrees that associated water savings will not be used to bring new land under irrigation production.
- proposals that improve conservation practices or systems already in place.
Under the 2014 farm bill, overall EQIP payments are limited to a maximum of $450,000 per person or legal entity during the period of fiscal years 2014 through 2018.
The 2014 farm bill authorized EQIP funding in the following amounts for fiscal years 2014 through 2018:
- 2014: $1.35 billion
- 2015: $1.60 billion
- 2016: $1.65 billion
- 2017: $1.65 billion
- 2018: $1.75 billion
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program 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 non-governmental 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 three funding pools to apply to. The funding pools are
- critical conservation areas — projects in eight high-need geographic areas.
- national — nationwide and multi-state projects.
- state — projects within a single state.
In addition, RCPP projects must address at least one of the following resource concerns:
- excess or insufficient water or drought
- water quality degradation
- soil quality degradation
- inadequate habitat for fish and wildlife (and invertebrates)
- air quality impacts
- degraded plant condition
The 2014 farm bill authorized $100 million in funding for RCPP for each of fiscal years 2014 through 2018. Additionally, other conservation programs within the NRCS, including EQIP, contribute 7 percent of their annual funding to RCPP. The NRCS anticipates the availability of up to $252.6 million in funding for RCPP in fiscal year 2018.