The good news is that USDA has announced there are millions of dollars up for grabs through grants to protect natural resources. The bad news is that the rules are relatively complicated, only groups can apply, the deadline for applying is short and it brings another acronym into play. This time it's CCPI, standing for Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative.
USDA's overall budget for this effort is $52.4 million. The agency has allocated $5.8 million for 'multi-state and national' projects. The focus is supposed to be upon innovative approaches that would enhance 'conservation outcomes on agricultural lands and private non-industrial forest lands.'
Indiana's office of the Natural Resource Conservation Service announced the new program on March 31. Yet even though the program requires that a group, not an individual, sign up for competitive grants, the deadline to submit proposals for possible state projects in April 23. That's according to Jane Hardisty, state conservationist in Indiana.
If you want to make comments on this new CCPI effort, you can do so at the federal level. But put your track shoes on. Comments must be submitted by April 8! That may give you a few hours to decide to say something.
If you're part of a recognized Indian tribe, a state or local unit of government, a producer association, a farmer cooperative, a college or university or a non-governmental agency with a history of working closely with producers, then your group is eligible to be a partner, and could submit a proposal. However, just as one producer, you're not eligible to apply for grants for this program.
If you think it sounds complicated so far, there's more. If a group's proposal is accepted by USDA in Washington, D.C., then eligible individuals who want to participate must apply to NRCS to get funding. Conservation plan practices can then be funded through EQIP or WHIP. EQIP stands for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and WHIP is the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.
That's the level at which individual producers could see dollars. You would need to meet eligibility requirements of the conservation program.
So has anything really changed in Washington- unwieldy programs, vague rules, short signup dates, plenty of hoops and red tape - you decide where the change is. Meanwhile, if you can find your way through the maze, the good news is that there are dollars available that could help solve soil conservation and other natural resource problems.