USDA is publishing a rule outlining how it will implement changes to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill. The changes are intended to simplify the EQIP regulation regarding conservation practice scheduling, payment limitations and other administrative actions.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers EQIP, a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to eligible agricultural producers to help them address soil, water, air and related natural resource concerns.

Highlights of program changes in this rule include the following:

• requires at least 5% of available EQIP funds be targeted for conservation practices that promote wildlife habitat;

• establishes EQIP as a contributing program for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program;

• increases the advanced payment from 30% to 50% for eligible historically underserved producers, including beginning farmers, to help purchase material or contract services;

• targets assistance to veteran farmers and ranchers including eligibility for the new 50% advance payment and up to 90% of the cost to implement EQIP conservation practices;

• increases the payment limitation for EQIP from $300,000 to a maximum of $450,000 for benefits received during 2014-2018 and removes the option for a waiver to exceed payment limitations;

 • eliminates the requirement for a program contract to remain in place for one year after the last practice has been implemented, allowing practices to be scheduled through the tenth year of a contract;

• includes an option to waive the irrigation history requirement under certain conditions;

• incorporates the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program functions into EQIP.

USDA has established a 60-day comment period for the rule. The rule is expected to be available in the Federal Register and regulations.gov on Friday, Dec. 12. Beginning Friday, public comments can be submitted through regulations.gov or by mailing them. Comments are due by Feb. 10, 2015. Full details are in the Federal Register notice.

For more information about interim final rules for USDA NRCS's Farm Bill conservation programs, visit the EQIP Rule Page.

For more information on technical and financial assistance available through EQIP, visit the EQIP Web page.