Deadline nears for farmers' incentives

COVINGTON - District Conservationist Dennis Brooks, of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service announced Wednesday that farmers interested in funding via the Environmental Quality Incentives Program fill out an application before Feb. 27. EQIP is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's largest conservation program for working agricultural lands.

"I encourage farmers to stop by the office now to get their applications on file in time for the first ranking window ends on Feb. 27," Brooks said, adding that the most common EQIP practices for local farmers are cross fencing, livestock watering facilities, clover planting, heavy use area, and waste storage facilities, etc.

He said there have been several changes to EQIP that make more farmers eligible to participate in the program.

· Under the amended EQIP, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as well as beginning and limited resource producers are authorized to receive payments of up to 90 percent of the costs of installing or implementing a conservation practice. These producers also can receive advance payments of up to 30 percent of the anticipated costs incurred to purchase materials or to contract services to implement a conservation practice. In Georgia, more than $1 million will be set aside for these producers.

· EQIP will offer financial and technical assistance for conservation practices to certified organic farmers and ranchers as well as producers interested in transitioning to organic farming. Organic producers must develop and carry out an organic system plan. These producers can receive a maximum payment of $20,000 annually, or $80,000 over six years to apply or carry out approved conservation practices contained in that plan.

· EQIP will offer financial assistance to forest landowners to develop a forest management plan, along with carrying out the conservation practices contained in the plan.

The EQIP interim final rule can be viewed at the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service's (USDA-NRCS) Web site at www.nrcs.usda.gov; at the official government regulation Web Site; and at the Federal Register.

For additional information about EQIP and other Farm Bill programs, please visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/EQIP/.