USDA Conservation Assistance Now Online

The USDA recently announced that farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners can now work with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) online.  The new Conservation Client Gateway permits producers to work with conservation planners online to access Farm Bill programs, request assistance, and track payments for conservation activities.  Now, instead of a trip to your local USDA service center, you can fire up your computer and log on to the Gateway.

The Gateway can be used to:

  • Request NRCS technical and financial assistance;
  • Review and sign conservation plans and practice schedules;
  • Complete and sign an application for a conservation program;
  • Review, sign and submit contracts and appendices for conservation programs;
  • Document completed practices and request certification of completed practices;
  • Request and track payments for conservation programs; and
  • Store and retrieve technical and financial files, including documents and photographs.

Currently, the Gateway is limited to individuals but will soon be expanded to included business entities, such as limited liability companies.

To get started with the Gateway, you will need to have:

  1. An individual Service Center Information Management System (SCIMS) record with a primary email address that is linked to your Level 2 eAuth account.
  2. A USDA Level 2 eAuthentication (eAuth) account that is linked to your SCIMS record.

More information about getting started is at the link.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us — we’re happy to help!

Conservation Stewardship Program Sign-Ups Ongoing

If you are interested in the Conservation Stewardship Program for 2015, you have until February 27, 2015 to submit your initial application to your local NRCS office.  If you submit your application after February 27, 2015, your application will be considered in 2016.

What is the Conservation Stewardship Program?  It is a working lands program that rewards farmers and ranchers for conservation and environmental benefits they produce.  NRCS has a self-screening checklist available to help you determine if the program is suitable for your operation.

CSP is a competitive program that aims to achieve environmental benefits by scoring and then financially rewarding CSP applicants with the highest conservation performance outcomes, based on current and planned future conservation activities. First you apply to see if you are eligible, then NRCS scores your current performance and future plans. If you already meet acceptable conservation levels, then you compete in a ranking process that determines who will receive contracts. Contracts are awarded to those offering the highest level of environmental benefits, with NRCS working down through the list of eligible applicants until acreage allocated to the particular state for that particular year runs out. At the national level in most years approximately twice as many farmers apply as get into the program in a given year, though there is some variation by state to that two to one ratio.

Signing up is simple.  Head over to your local NRCS office and submit the initial application, which is a simple form.

Keep in mind that if you are applying as an entity (that is, a business), you must have a DUNS number  (click here on information on how to obtain a DUNS number).  Additionally, the entity will need to register with the System for Award Management.  If you are applying as an individual and use your social security number as your Employer Identification Number (EIN), you do not need a DUNS number or register with SAM.

At this time, NRCS has not published updated information for the fiscal year 2015 sign-up, such as which enhancements are available to choose among or corresponding environmental benefit score.  But don’t let that stop you from contacting your local NRCS office if you are interested.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program Launched

NRCS recently announced a new program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  RCPP is a new program in which NRCS, working with state, local, and regional partners coordinate resources to install and maintain conservation projects and activities.

RCPP funding falls among three different areas.   Forty percent of funding for RCPP will go to national, multi-state projects; twenty-five percent to state projects; and thirty-five percent to critical conservation areas designated by the Secretary of Agriculture.

What makes RCPP particularly interesting are the eligible partners.  Eligible partners include agricultural or silvicultural producer associations, farmers cooperatives or other groups of producers, state or local governments, Indian tribes, municipal water treatment entities, water and irrigation districts, conservation-driven non-governmental organizations, and institutions of higher learning.

The funding notice is currently available.  Unfortunately, the closing date to apply is July 14, 2014 so if you are interested, start your application sooner than later.  NRCS is hosting webinars and Q&A sessions if you have questions and the webinars will be recorded for future reference or if you cannot make the designated date and time.


Nebraska Wetland Conservation Easement Sign-Up

Nebraska NRCS has announced it is now accepting applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP), specifically for wetlands reserve easements.  The applications will be rated according to the easement’s potential to protect and enhance habitat for migratory birds, fish, and other wildlife.  Applicants will be compensated with a payment rate comparable to local land use value.  (Click here and scroll down to ‘Wetland Reserve Easements’ to find a .pdf file listing the payment rates.)

Applications can be submitted at any time but applications for 2014 funding are due by June 6, 2014.  Note that applicants will need to provide accurate records of ownership and make certain s/he have established a record of ownership with FSA.  Information on the application process, including the application itself, is available here.

NRCS is committed to working with interested applicants through the process of applying for ACEP and creating an easement that works best for the farming operation.  You are also welcome to contact us if you need further information or help!

Conservation Stewardship Program sign-up extended

The Conservation Stewardship Program is extending the sign-up period to February 7, 2014.  But for many, the question remains: what is the Conservation Stewardship Program?

The Program, or CSP, is run by the National Resource Conservation Service.  CSP is a voluntary program that encourages resource conservation via: (1) undertaking additional conservation activities, and (2) improving or maintaining existing conservation activities.  Unlike some programs, CSP is available to a producer regardless of the size of the operation or crops produced.

Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forest land, and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

Additionally, the higher the conservation performance, the higher the payment for participation in CSP.  There may be more than one CSP contract at any given time.  However, payments are capped at $40,000 in any year and not more than $200,000 in any five year period.  Those receiving payments may be individuals, legal entities (e.g. S-Corp, LLC etc.), joint operations, or Indian tribes.  The contract limit (the amount paid for a contract) is the same as the payment limit above, except joint operations which have an $80,000 per year contract limit and $400,000 over the term of the contract period.

Payment comes in two forms: the first, an annual payment for instituting or maintaining a conservation practice.  The second is a supplemental payment for instituting a a resourcing conserving crop rotation.

More information can be found on this Fact Sheet about CSP from NRCS.  If you are curious about whether CSP is a program that may work in your operation, this checklist is a good resource.  We’re also here to answer any questions you may have so feel free to contact us!


Nebraska NRCS assisting Nebraksa producers with blizzard livestock loss.

Remember last week when we discussed EQIP?  Well, the Nebraska NRCS has added a new element to EQIP — a special Livestock Mortality Initiative.  The Initiative provides technical and financial assistance to producers to dispose of livestock carcasses in a safe manner.  If a producer has already disposed of livestock, he or she may still apply for funds so long as the disposal meets NRCS technical requirements.  Note that technical and financial assistance will be available upon submission of an application; once funds are available, a contract will be drawn up and and payment completed once work is complete.

Due to the path of the blizzard, the Initiative is available only for producers in the Upper Niobrara White Natural Resources District which serves Box Butte, Dawes, Sheridan, and Sioux counties.  The deadline to sign-up for assistance is November 15, 2013.

What is EQIP?

If you have an interest in soil, water, and wildlife conservation, Nebraska NRCS is now accepting applications for its EQIP program.

What is EQIP?

EQIP stands for Environmental Quality Incentives Program.  It is a voluntary program designed to assist owners of land in agriculture or forest production in soil, water, and wildlife conservation.  The owner of the land enters into a contract with a maximum term of ten years (although most are three to four years); the contracts provide financial assistance via cost-sharing to plan and implement conservation practices that are appropriate for the land and the owner’s conservation goals.

How does EQIP work?

EQIP applications are subject to a competitive process, in which the applications are ranked.  Nebraska offers special incentives for water conservation in the Ogalalla Aquifer, energy conservation, and conversion to organic production.  How the ranking is determined varies by state.

Does EQIP assist beginning farmers and ranchers?

Absolutely.  In fact, if all other application requirements are met, beginning farmers, socially-disadvantaged farmers, and limited-resource farmers may receive greater financial assistance of 25% above the applicable cost-share percentage.  What this means is if a resource practice has a cost-share of 50%, a beginning farmer or rancher will receive 75% cost-share from EQIP.

Additionally, five percent of EQIP funding is set aside for beginning farmers and ranchers and another five percent is set aside for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Can I only apply once?

No.  As long as you meet the eligibility criteria, you may continue to apply for EQIP funds.

Can I receive unlimited monetary assistance?

Smart question but the answer is no.  Payments are limited to $300,000 for all contracts entered into during a six year period.  Payments for technical assistance are excluded from the $300,000 limitation.  Further, payments for organic production may not exceed $20,000 per year or $80,000 during any six year period.

If NRCS determines your project has special environmental significance, an applicant may petition the NRCS Chief for the payment limitation to be raised to $450,000.

When are applications due?

Nebraska applications can be accepted at any time but ranking for applications on hand will begin on November 15, 2013.  A second round of ranking has a cut-off date of January 17, 2014.