USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program continues to be very popular among conservation minded land owners. During fiscal 2009 the program provided $731 million in financial assistance for producer's contracts. But applications worth an estimated $1.36 billion went unfunded. Texas, California and Oklahoma led the nation in unfunded applications, accounting for almost 20% of the total.
Most EQIP payments cover up to 75% of the incurred costs and income foregone of certain conservation practices and activities. The 2008 Farm Bill authorized gradually increasing amounts for EQIP funding reaching $1.75 billion in 2012. Appropriators have been below the bills targets. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., wants to use EQIP dollars to pay for increased child nutrition funding. That's hasn't gone over well with members of the conservation and environmental communities.
The possibility that funding for the EQIP and other conservation programs could be reduced has the National Association of Conservation Districts working to retain the funding commitment provided in the farm bill. At the same time NACD says improving efficiency of current programs is also important. The administration wants to cut the Wetlands Reserve Program by 57,000 acres, EQIP by $380 million, the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program by $15 million, Agricultural Management Assistance by $5 million and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program by $12 million.