The Natural Resource Conservation Service has always had a clear mission, “We’re here to help people help their land,” stated Curt McDaniel, Assistant State Conservationist for the Missouri NRCS.
“Our conservation working lands programs allow us to provide the necessary technical and supporting financial assistance to agricultural producers to help protect and improve our natural resources for sustainability of healthy, productive environments,” said Arkansas NRCS State Public Affairs Specialist Reginald Jackson and other Arkansas NRCS staff. The NRCS accomplishes this in a number of ways, such as education, funding, training and through programs like the new Environmental Quality Incentives Program, also known as EQIP.

What is EQIP?
EQIP is a voluntary, nationwide program that supports agriculture producers who wish to make a positive impact on the environment through their farming practices with the help of a number of initiatives. The NRCS will provide financial and technical assistance to producers who have been selected through an application process. Applications that have been submitted are reviewed to determine which requested projects would have the largest positive impact on the environment. McDaniel said these programs and initiatives are “aimed at producers who have environmental needs with livestock, landscape and headquarters.”

On-Farm Energy Initiative
This initiative focuses on how producers can save energy on the farm. Through a farm assessment, followed by a development of an Agricultural Energy Management Plan (AgEMP), also classified as an on-farm energy audit, the NRCS will help the producer (who can have anything from a poultry house to a dairy to a row crop operation) look closely at areas where energy improvements can be made to increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact. Applications of these audits can include switching to LED lighting in buildings, increasing insulation for heating and air efficiency, creating proper ventilation in livestock housing and utilizing cover crops. “We can reduce energy to put out nutrients through vegetative methods,” said McDaniel. Not only does the practice of planting cover crops decrease the amount of energy used to make multiple passes with machinery across a field to spread fertilizer or to till, it also dramatically improves the quality of the soil, and its organic matter.

Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative
This initiative is geared towards helping growers who raise produce for commercial or educational purposes extend their growing season. “There is more environmental benefit by allowing them to grow longer,” McDaniel said. He noted that better soil health, increased organic matter, better nutrient cycling, and taking advantage of the sunlight are all benefits of using a high tunnel. Curtis Millsap, a grower from Springfield, Mo., who received an EQIP High Tunnel grant from the NRCS, said “We produce vegetables year-round with nothing but solar heat. I think that is a great thing for the environment.” The use of high tunnels to grow fresh food that is accessible to communities is a great matter of importance not just to the NRCS, but one that extends all the way to the White House where, Curt McDaniel noted, the President encourages people to know their farmers and their food, and the First Lady encourages gardening on a national scale.

Organic Initiative
The goal of the NRCS with the Organic Initiative is to assist producers who are transitioning to organic certification, or to assist previously organic growers with improving their certification. The NRCS looks for opportunities to help producers to improve upon organic practices such as mulching for weed control, providing pollinator habitats, and planting beneficial crops that can aid in pest control and nutrient distribution. Through the Organic Initiative, the NRCS will provide “federal dollars to support sound conservation practices and to help with the cost of implementing the prescribed practices,” said Jackson and other Arkansas NRCS staff.

Apply for EQIP
The best way to apply for an EQIP initiative grant is to visit your local USDA Service Center. Visiting with staff knowledgeable to your area, and presenting your environmental concerns is a good way to decide which program might work for you. Then you can apply online or in person for an EQIP grant that will help not only yourself, but the world around you as well.


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