COLUMBUS — 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 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.
“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,” said State Resource Conservationist Mark Smith. “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.”
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.
Those who apply by Nov. 15 will receive priority over those who 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.
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. Agricultural producers interested in applying for EQIP and conservation planning assistance should contact their local NRCS office.
The Ohio NRCS website at www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov has a listing of telephone numbers and addresses by county.