Farm bill programs help farmers offset costs of addressing environmental issues
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Dec. 16 is the application cutoff date for two farm bill programs that provide Idaho farmers and ranchers millions of dollars in financial assistance each year to protect the environment or improve wildlife habitat.
The Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program are both voluntary programs that help agricultural producers complete natural resource conservation projects or conserve wildlife habitat on their land.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the two programs combined provided hundreds of agricultural producers and forest land owners about $14 million during fiscal 2011.
"These farm bill programs help people help the land," said Elliot Traher, acting assistant state conservationist for the NRCS Idaho office.
The programs, he said, "allow landowners to identify resource issues or concerns and (establish) practices that can help resolve those concerns."
The EQIP program in particular has become very popular in Idaho, Traher said. The NRCS received 970 EQIP applications last year and was able to fund 359 projects with $13.8 million in available funding.
The application cutoff date for both programs is Dec. 16. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis but only those received by that date will be considered for the first period of funding in fiscal 2012.
Besides helping farmers and ranchers by offsetting the cost of addressing environmental issues, the programs have also proved beneficial to the environment and wildlife, Traher said.
The EQIP program helps producers complete natural resource conservation projects and make conservation-related management changes on their farms or ranches.
Projects that have been funded through EQIP include conversion from conventional tillage to direct seeding or no-till practices, restoring stream banks and riparian areas and tree-planting, and pre-commercial thinning and forest site preparation to improve forest health.
Private agricultural land, non-industrial private forestland and tribal lands are eligible for WHIP, which helps landowners establish or improve wildlife habitat on their property.
Examples of projects funded through WHIP include stream bank and shoreline protection programs, wildlife friendly fencing to protect sensitive habitat areas, and the planting of trees and shrubs to establish wind breaks and shelter belts.
In 2011 alone, projects funded through these programs included conservation practices on 274,000 acres of agricultural land.
"Every year we're getting more conservation acres on the ground to address issues such as soil erosion, water quality and quantity, and wildlife habitat," he said.