USDA’s Working Lands Programs
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
filed under: News
By Melissa Martin*
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) working lands programs help America’s farmers, ranchers and forest managers create and enhance pollinator habitat through voluntary conservation efforts that fit their agricultural operations.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides agricultural producers and landowners with financial and technical assistance to plan and implement conservation practices to address resource concerns related to air, soil, water and improved wildlife habitat, resulting in outcomes that are beneficial for producers and the environment.
EQIP helps producers achieve conservation goals cost-effectively. It provides targeted advanced payments to help offset the up-front costs of implementation for historically underserved participants and offers increased payment rates for high-priority practices.
Producers interested in achieving higher levels of conservation may consider the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The program helps producers enhance conservation activities on their working lands by building upon their existing management efforts.
CSP offers several single or bundled enhancements along with practices that can be included in a customized plan to help producers meet their objectives. With CSP, producers earn annual payments for actively managing and increasing conservation activities such as cover crops and pollinator habitat. CSP contracts have a five-year term with an option to renew.
The 2018 farm bill led to better alignment of the EQIP and CSP programs. This expanded eligibility for applicants. Additionally, CSP contract adjustments have been simplified to align more with the processes used for EQIP. Both programs use a scientific-based approach to assess site conditions and to document the impacts that planned practices and activities will have on the land. EQIP can prepare participants for CSP by implementing conservation practices to address resource concerns. Enhancements are made available through CSP to increase the level of conservation beyond what a practice alone accomplishes.
Financial assistance provided by both EQIP and CSP fund several conservation practices and enhancements that improve pollinator habitat within conservation crop rotation systems. Utilizing small areas of cropland to establish pollinator habitat can be a relatively low-cost way to achieve conservation benefits.
Working with a conservation planner, producers can add vegetative conservation practices and tailor the planting mix to include flowering plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, achieving habitat and greater plant diversity in small watersheds.
Your local NRCS conservation planner can assist with the selection of appropriate conservation practices:
• Field Border 386 reduces erosion, reduces sedimentation in ground and surface water, and provides food and cover for wildlife and pollinators or other beneficial organisms by establishing vegetation at the edge or around the perimeter of a field.
• Contour Buffers 332 and Filter Strip 393 reduce erosion and maintain water quality through vegetative plantings that may include flowering plants.
• Conservation Cover 327 and Wildlife Habitat Planting 420 establish wildlife habitat. For example, farmers in South Dakota are planting prairie strips with multiple pollinator-friendly plant species to protect water quality.
Additionally, the USDA Farm Service Agency offers CP-43 Prairie Strips through the Conservation Reserve Program to address soil erosion and water quality with an emphasis on beneficial insects.
CSP offers several conservation practice enhancements to address pollinator habitat.
• E386E widens field borders and establishes plant species to improve pollinator foraging.
• E328J enhances conservation crop rotation by including pollinator-friendly crops. For example, sunflower growers can diversify crop rotation to include sunflower for at least one year in the rotation.
• E328M diversifies crop rotation with sunflower to benefit pollinators. Additionally, insecticides and fungicides can be applied to the sunflower crop following industry best management practices.
NRCS welcomes local input from partners and stakeholders to ensure CSP and EQIP address prioritized natural resource concerns. Available in all 50 states and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands areas, NRCS accepts applications for these voluntary conservation programs on a continuous basis.
To learn more about conservation planning, financial assistance, or to request a visit by an NRCS Certified Conservation Planner, contact your local NRCS office.
* Melissa Martin is Science Advisor, Ecological Sciences Division of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.