The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making more than $3 billion in funding available for agricultural producers and forest landowners nationwide to participate in voluntary conservation programs and adopt climate-smart practices in fiscal year 2024 as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. The announcement comes as the Biden-Harris Administration hosts the first-ever White House Climate Resilience Summit.
These funds are provided by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act – the largest climate and conservation investment in history. This law invests an additional $19.5 billion for USDA’s popular conservation programs. These programs also advance the President’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to ensure 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain climate, clean energy, and other federal investments reach disadvantaged communities that have been marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution. On the heels of last week’s announcement that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) saw record producer interest in these resources in fiscal year 2023, the agency is now accepting applications from producers interested in this additional conservation assistance for fiscal year 2024.
“Thanks to President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, we have additional resources to invest in climate-smart practices as we continue to see high demand for these popular conservation programs,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This funding will be used to meet producer demand for our oversubscribed programs and maximize climate benefits across the country while also providing other important environmental benefits. This includes investing in popular common-sense practices such as cover crops, waste and fertilizer management, and grazing practices, while continuing to work through existing programs to help producers address other natural resource challenges. Ultimately, this will lead to economic opportunity for producers, more productive soil, cleaner water and air, healthier wildlife habitat and natural resource conservation for future generations.”
These additional investments are estimated to help hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers apply conservation to millions of acres of land. These funds provide direct climate mitigation benefits, advance a host of other environmental co-benefits, and expand access to financial and technical assistance for producers to advance conservation on their farm, ranch or forest land through practices like cover cropping, conservation tillage, wetland restoration, prescribed grazing, nutrient management, tree planting and more.
USDA is opening up the application period for fiscal year 2024 conservation assistance giving producers the opportunity to apply for this historic funding. However, in the event of a lapse in government funding, technical assistance, one-on-one help in answering questions, and other support for producers in navigating the application process would not be immediately available until the funding lapse ends. In the event of a funding lapse, NRCS would notify producers when staff are available to assist.
Expansion of Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Activities supported by the Inflation Reduction Act
NRCS is increasing Climate-Smart Agricultural and Forestry Mitigation Activities eligible for Inflation Reduction Act funding for fiscal year 2024 through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). These in-demand activities are expected to deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or increases in carbon sequestration as well as significant other benefits to natural resources like soil health, water quality, pollinator and wildlife habitat and air quality. In response to feedback received from conservation partners, producers and NRCS staff across the country, NRCS considered and evaluated activities based on scientific literature demonstrating expected climate change mitigation benefits. To learn more, download the list of practices and a fact sheet.
When applied through this framework, these activities are expected to deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or increases in carbon sequestration. NRCS will continue to evaluate additional practices as science progresses and will evaluate and identify quantification methodologies during the fiscal year.
Expansion of priorities for the ACEP investments through the Inflation Reduction Act
Additionally, NRCS is expanding the national priority areas eligible for Inflation Reduction Act funding for Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) easements in fiscal year 2024. For ACEP Agricultural Land Easements (ALE), NRCS is prioritizing securing:
- Grasslands in areas of highest risk for conversion to non-grassland uses to prevent the release of soil carbon stores.
- Agricultural lands under threat of conversion to non-agricultural uses.
- State-specific priorities including rice cultivation on subsiding highly organic soils.
For ACEP Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE), NRCS is prioritizing:
- Land with soils high in organic carbon.
- Eligible lands that will be restored to and managed as forests like bottomland hardwood forests.
- Eligible lands in existing forest cover that will be managed as forests.
- Several geographically specific priorities (i.e., former cranberry bogs, wet meadows, and ephemeral wetlands in grassland ecosystems).
The Inflation Reduction Act provides funds to the EQIP, CSP, ACEP and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). For fiscal year 2024, which begins Oct. 1, 2023, the Inflation Reduction Act provides an additional $1.65 billion for EQIP, $472 million for CSP, and $189 million for ACEP, and $754 million for RCPP.
How to Apply
NRCS accepts producer applications for its conservation programs year-round, but producers interested in this cycle of Inflation Reduction Act funding should apply as soon as possible. Producers interested in EQIP or CSP should apply by their state’s ranking dates for consideration this year. Funding is provided through a competitive process and will include an opportunity to address the unmet demand from producers who have previously sought funding for climate-smart conservation activities.
Similarly, NRCS accepts applications year-round for ACEP Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE), producers interested in this funding cycle must apply by Nov. 13, 2023. NRCS will also consider previously unfunded applications in this round.
NRCS plans to roll out the next RCPP funding opportunity in late January 2024.
NRCS will announce other opportunities for agreements and partnerships at the state level for fiscal year 2024 in the coming months. The Inflation Reduction Act provides funding to support those strategic partnerships with local, regional and national organizations. This will include outreach to underserved producers to ensure Inflation Reduction Act climate funding is reaching those who have been previously unable to access conservation assistance.
Interested producers should contact the NRCS at their local USDA Service Center.Source : usda.gov