Keep an Eye Out for Conservation Needs During Harvest

Make your list and sign-up for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

Applications submitted by November 15th will receive 1st priority for funding.

It’s the time of year Ohio farmers hit the fields to harvest, driving over the land planted last spring. As combines remove the crop, the land hidden beneath reveals areas that may benefit from conservation treatments to improve the health of the land and next year’s crop. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employs professional conservationists who, together with the farmer, evaluate how the land may benefit from conservation treatment. They then develop a conservation plan outlining which conservation treatments, or practices, will improve the land. State Resource Conservationist Mark Smith describes a possible scenario. “When the farmer harvests a field, he or she may notice things like wheel tracks, gullies, or places where the crop didn’t grow well. These may indicate areas of soil compaction, soil erosion, or some other problem. Cover crops, gaining popularity among farmers, can help improve soil health, reduce compaction, tie up nutrients, and improve the amount of water soil can hold.”

Dot Harris, Ohio’s Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, manages the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and explains how EQIP can help with the cost of trying a new conservation practice like cover crops. “With a conservation plan in hand, the farmer applies for EQIP to pay for conservation practices like cover crops, drainage water management, rotational grazing, and much more. The financial assistance pays a part of the cost of trying these things, which may be just what’s needed to make trying something new worthwhile.” When it comes to cover crops, Dave Brandt, a Fairfield County farmer and cover crop advocate, believes that over time, cover crops actually increase profit and increase the value of farmland. 

Any eligible agricultural producer can apply for EQIP anytime. Periodically, NRCS reviews applications for those that provide the most environmental benefit, a process called ranking, and selects those that provide the highest benefit for funding depending on the availability of EQIP funds. Recognizing that it may be challenging to make an appointment with the local NRCS office to develop a conservation plan and apply for EQIP during harvest, those that do apply by November 15 will receive priority over those that apply after that date. NRCS will send letters to farmers who applied for EQIP last year but were not selected for funding, to determine if they want to re-submit their deferred applications for funding consideration now. 

After NRCS selects applications for funding, the conservationist will contact the applicant to sign an EQIP contract describing which conservation practices the farmer agrees to apply, how much NRCS will pay for with EQIP funds, and develop a schedule that the farmer agrees to for applying or installing the conservation practice. After the farmer installs or applies the practice, he or she notifies NRCS. After NRCS verifies that the farmer installed or applied the conservation practice as agreed upon, the conservationist will certify the practice and initiate the payment process. Typically, the farmer agrees to maintain the practice for a given time-period, which is the average time of the practices’ effectiveness. 

Acting State Conservationist Michelle Lohstroh says, “We at NRCS are committed to helping Ohio agriculture thrive by advising farmers on ways to improve their natural resources, especially keeping soil, the foundation of agriculture, healthy. Federal farm programs, like EQIP, help farmers pay for the initial cost of conservation because all American enjoy the resulting environmental benefits – cleaner air and water, diverse wildlife and plant populations, and productive soil.”

Agricultural producers interested in applying for EQIP and conservation planning assistance should contact their local NRCS office. The Ohio NRCS website at has a listing of telephone numbers and addresses by county. Telephone directories typically list NRCS or U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers in the government section of the directory.

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USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps America’s farmers and ranchers conserve the Nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.

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Checkout other conservation-related stories on USDA Blog

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