Long on land management goals, but short on cash? EQIP can help

Most landowners interested in improving their property for turkeys do not have unlimited funds to spend on management. They may recognize that government programs are available to help them but trying to understand these programs can quickly become overwhelming. Even wading through the alphabet soup of acronyms is a struggle; from CRP to ESP, finding a program that best works for your property can be a challenge.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offers a wide array of opportunities for private landowners. Administered through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, it is designed to address resource needs that are state and region specific. The program is based on applying land management practices to targeted areas with landowners receiving cost-share funding to help offset the expense of each project. Cost-share funding rates are calculated based on the practice and the region. They are paid after the specified practices are completed.

The variety of projects that may qualify for EQIP cost-share are vast, but a few stand out when it comes to improving land for turkey, deer, bobwhite quail and other wildlife species.

Prescribed fire, for example, is one of the most widely used management tools throughout much of the country. Cost-share funding can help pay for installing the initial firebreaks and the burning. This is especially helpful for landowners who lack the experience to burn their own property. Funding helps pay for trained burning crews as well as hiring heavy equipment operators to create firebreaks.

Cost-share benefits also are offered for treating invasive plants. Eligibility varies depending on the state and region, but it is possible to receive funding for herbicide applications that, among other things, remove nonnative grasses in old fields, sweetgum in pine stands and Chinese privet, an invasive species that forms dense thickets, in bottomland hardwoods.

The full list of wildlife habitat improvement practices potentially eligible for cost-share is expansive. Projects ranging from planting pollinator plots to excluding livestock from streams are in the mix.

The first step in EQIP enrollment is meeting with your local NRCS agent. This person works with you to discuss your management objectives and the specific projects needed to meet your goals. Next is an assessment about whether EQIP has practices that will fit on your property. If so, your NRCS agent creates a plan and funding application.

Applications are ranked by how well your projects fit into state and regional goals. You are notified of acceptance if your project ranks high enough on the list, dependent upon available funding at the local level allocated by the farm bill.

Following acceptance, your agent reviews with you the contract outlining the approved management practices and timeline. Some projects, such as fire or herbicide applications, may extend over several years, while others are one-time procedures. After the work is finished, the NRCS agent confirms its completion and sends you the cost-share funding.

The process may seem lengthy, but NRCS agents are terrific at helping people work through the steps to receive funding. Cost-share has allowed many people to complete work on their land that would have been too expensive otherwise.

All you really need to get started are some property improvement goals. Then it is just a matter of calling and asking for help.

To see more information about EQIP, visit the USDA’s web page, www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/eqip.

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