EQIP yourself

Taking advantage of government financial assistance programs might be easier than you think.
BY ANNE BLANKENBILLER
EQIP yourself

Rebates, discounts and special prices — especially for large purchases — are all things that capture a buyer’s attention. For large purchases, these could make the difference in whether or not you sign on the dotted line.

For farmers, modernizing their irrigation equipment can seem like an out-of-reach financial proposition. But there is the potential for significant financial reimbursement through federal government programs that are aimed at helping farmers improve their practices in protecting natural resources. Applying for and utilizing these government programs might not be as difficult as growers think, and the payoff can be monumental.


Applying for and utilizing these government programs might not be as difficult as growers think, and the payoff can be monumental. 


One of the programs offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, known as EQIP, which is funded through the farm bill.

The EQIP program is a voluntary conservation program that provides eligible farmers and ranchers financial and technical help with installing conservation practices on agricultural land. The program helps producers plan and implement improvements to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits. These benefits include improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, increased soil health, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, improved or created wildlife habitat, and mitigation against drought and increasing weather volatility.

For an irrigator, the EQIP program can be utilized to help support changes in an operation toward more efficient irrigation methods and practices, which not only helps protect the critical water supply but also saves money through decreased input costs. Many growers have utilized EQIP funding to convert irrigation land to more efficient irrigation systems.

Who’s eligible for EQIP?

Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who own or rent agricultural land are eligible. EQIP assistance can be used on all types of agricultural operations, including

  • conventional and organic.
  • specialty crops and commodity crops.
  • forestry and wildlife.
  • livestock operations.
  • historically underserved farmers (i.e., beginning, limited resource, socially disadvantaged, military veterans).

In 2021, NRCS provided $10 million to support climate-smart agriculture and forestry through targeted EQIP signup in specific states. One of the climate-smart conservation practices prioritized in this targeted EQIP signup period included improving conservation management for rice production, such as using alternate wetting and drying. This pilot will be expanded through a comprehensive effort across all states and programs to support farmers in fiscal year 2022.

How do you get started?

The NRCS suggests five steps to start the process of getting technical and financial assistance.

  1. Planning – The first step is to stop by your local NRCS field office to discuss your plans and ideas. NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. This could include anything from resource assessment to practice design to resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you.
  2. Application – NRCS staff will walk you through the application process, helping you evaluate your options. Applications for EQIP financial assistance are accepted throughout the year. States specify deadlines for ranking and funding. Talk to your local field staff about any specific ranking period application deadlines for the project you are interested in.
  3. Eligibility – During the application process, the NRCS will check to determine your eligibility. A few pieces of documentation you might be required to provide include
    • official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID).
    • property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property.
    • farm tract number. These can be obtained by visiting the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, which is typically located in the same office as NRCS.
  1. Ranking – The NRCS reviews applications and ranks them. Rankings are determined based on areas such as local resource concerns, the amount of benefits the project will provide and the needs of the applicant.
  2. Implementing – If your project is selected, you have the option to enter into a contract agreeing to complete the project and to receive financial assistance. Payment rates are reviewed and set each fiscal year. Once the contract is signed, the NRCS provides standards and specifications for completing the project, and you will have a specified amount of time to implement it. When the project is completed, implemented and inspected, you will receive payment if it meets the NRCS standards and specifications. NRCS staff are available along the way to help ensure you’re on the right track.

One-on-one help

Financial assistance for large projects is the initial draw for government programs such as EQIP. But, technical and planning assistance provided during these projects is a significant benefit. Through EQIP, NRCS provides agricultural producers with one-on-one help to plan, design and implement improvements in their operations.

Through this assistance, NRCS staff also help ensure that the equipment is installed and working properly and operating at optimal efficiency. When making large-scale irrigation system conversions, this technical assistance provided from the planning process to inspection can be invaluable.

Together, NRCS and producers co-invest in solutions that conserve natural resources for the future while improving agricultural operations.

Anne Blankenbiller is the editor-in-chief of Irrigation Today magazine.

Check into state-specific programs

In addition to federal programs, some states also provide state-specific programs that can provide similar assistance for projects focused on efficient irrigation.

The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program in California is one example. Known as SWEEP, this program provides financial assistance in the form of grants to implement irrigation systems that reduce greenhouse gases and save water on California agricultural operations. Eligible system components include (among others) soil moisture monitoring, drip systems, switching to low pressure irrigation systems, pump retrofits, variable frequency drives and installation of renewable energy to reduce on-farm water use and energy.

For more information, go to www.cdfa.ca.gov/oefi/sweep.

Check with your state’s department of agriculture to determine if there are programs applicable to your operation.

Want more information? 

Visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/farmbill or www.farmers.gov, or find your local USDA Service Center at www.farmers.gov/service-locator.

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