U.S. Code of Federal Regulations

Regulations most recently checked for updates: May 30, 2023

§ 1466.20 - Application for contracts and selecting applications.

(a) General guidelines. (1) Any producer who has eligible land may submit an application for participation in EQIP.

(2) NRCS, to the greatest extent practicable, will group applications of similar crop, forestry, and livestock operations for evaluation purposes.

(3) Applications may be accepted on a continuous basis throughout the year.

(4) Producers who are members of a joint operation may file a single application for ranking purposes for the joint operation.

(b) Ranking guidelines. In evaluating EQIP applications, NRCS—

(1) Will establish ranking pools to address a specific resource concern by geographic area or agricultural operation type with advice from the State Technical Committee, Tribal Conservation Advisory Council, or local working groups;

(2) Will develop an evaluation process using, where applicable, science-based tools to prioritize and rank applications for funding that considers national, State, and local priority resource concerns, taking into account the factors related to conservation benefits to address identified resource concerns through implementation of conservation practices such as:

(i) The degree of cost-effectiveness of the proposed conservation practices;

(ii) The magnitude of the expected conservation benefits resulting from the conservation treatment and the priority of the resource concerns that have been identified at the local, State, and national levels;

(iii) How effectively and comprehensively the project addresses the designated resource concern or resource concerns;

(iv) Use of conservation practices that provide long-term conservation enhancements;

(v) Compliance with Federal, State, Tribal, or local regulatory requirements concerning soil, water, and air quality; wildlife habitat; and ground and surface water conservation;

(vi) Willingness of the applicant to complete all conservation practices in an expedited manner;

(vii) The ability to improve existing conservation practices or systems which are in place at the time the application is accepted, or that complete a conservation system;

(viii) The applicant's meeting O&M requirements for the lifespan of conservation practices previously funded through EQIP;

(ix) The land is enrolled under a CRP contract transitioning to a covered farmer or rancher as specified in 16 U.S.C. 3835(f); and

(x) Other locally defined pertinent factors, such as the location of the conservation practice, the extent of natural resource degradation, and the degree of cooperation by local producers to achieve environmental improvements.

(3) May give priority for applications that include water conservation or irrigation-related practices, and consistent with State law in which the applicant's eligible land is located, if the application—

(i) Results in a reduction in water use in the agricultural operation, or

(ii) Includes an agreement by the applicant not to use any associated water savings to bring new land (other than incidental land needed for efficient operations) under irrigation production unless the producer is participating in a watershed-wide project that will effectively conserve water as designated under paragraph (c) of this section;

(4) May not assign a higher priority to the application solely because it would present the least cost to the program if determined that the conservation benefits of two or more applications for payments are comparable;

(5) Will ensure that the ranking score does not give preferential treatment to applications based on size of the operation, income generated from the operation, type of operation, or other factors not related to conservation benefits to address a resource concern unless authorized in this rule;

(6) Will determine through the evaluation process the order in which applications will be selected for funding; and

(7) Will make available to the public all information regarding priority resource concerns, the list of eligible practices, payment rates, and how EQIP is implemented in a State.

(c) Eligibility of certain water conservation projects. NRCS may designate as eligible watershed-wide projects that effectively conserve water, using the criteria in paragraphs (c)(1) through (3) of this section:

(1) The project area has a current, comprehensive water resource assessment; and

(2) The project plan incorporates one or more of the practices in paragraphs (c)(2)(i) through (iii) of this section:

(i) Water conservation scheduling, water distribution efficiency, soil moisture monitoring, or an appropriate combination thereof,

(ii) Irrigation-related structural or other measures that conserve surface or ground water, including managed aquifer recovery practices, or

(iii) A transition to water-conserving crops, water-conserving crop rotations, or deficit irrigation; and

(3) The project sponsors have consulted relevant State and local agencies.

(d) Administrative efficiency. (1) NRCS may use screening factors as part of its evaluation process that may include sorting applications into high, medium, or low priority.

(2) If screening factors are used to designate a higher priority for ranking, all eligible applications screened with a higher priority are ranked and considered for funding before ranking applications that are a lower priority.

(3) NRCS is the approving authority for all EQIP contracts.

[84 FR 69280, Dec. 17, 2019, as amended at 85 FR 67647, Oct. 26, 2020]

§ 1466.21 - Contract requirements.

(a) Requirement for a contract. For a participant to receive payments, the participant must enter into a contract agreeing to implement one or more conservation practices. Payment for technical services may be included in the contract pursuant to requirements of this part.

(b) Contract terms. An EQIP contract will—

(1) Identify all conservation practices to be implemented, the timing of practice installation, the O&M requirements for the practices, and applicable payments allocated to the practices under the contract;

(2) Have a term for no more than 10 years;

(3) Incorporate all provisions as required by law or statute, including requirements that the participant will—

(i) Not implement any practices on the enrolled land that would defeat the program's purposes,

(ii) Refund any program payments received with interest, and forfeit any future payments under the program, on the violation of a term or condition of the contract, consistent with the provisions of § 1466.26,

(iii) Refund all program payments received on the transfer of the right and interest of the producer in land subject to the contract, unless the transferee of the right and interest agrees to assume all obligations, including O&M of the EQIP contract's conservation practices, consistent with the provisions of § 1466.25,

(iv) Develop and implement any conservation practices identified in an EQIP plan of operations consistent with a CNMP when the EQIP contract includes an animal waste management facility on an AFO,

(v) Implement conservation practices consistent with an approved forest management plan when the EQIP plan of operations includes forest-related practices that address resource concerns on NIPF,

(vi) Supply information as required by NRCS to determine compliance with contract and program requirements, and

(vii) Specify the participant's responsibilities for the O&M of the applied conservation practices, consistent with the provisions of § 1466.22; and

(4) Specify any other provision determined necessary or appropriate by NRCS to achieve the technical requirements of a practice or purposes of the program.

(c) Timeline for implementation. At least one conservation practice must be scheduled for completion within the first 12 months of the contract; NRCS may extend this timeframe if NRCS determines that the participant is unable to complete the conservation practice for reasons beyond their control.

(d) Contract limitation. Each contract will be limited to no more than $450,000, unless the contract is with an Indian Tribe or the Chief grants a waiver. Contracts related to organic operations are also subject to payment limitations pursuant to § 1466.24(b).

(e) Waiver to contract limitation. (1) The Chief may waive the contract limitation set forth in paragraph (d) of this section if the Chief determines that—

(i) The waiver is in the best interests of the program; and

(ii) The contract involves either—

(A) A joint operation,

(B) A group project, such as for the development of an anaerobic digestor or the improvement of privately owned and operated irrigation systems that benefits multiple producers or a large area of land; or

(C) A water management entity for which NRCS has approved a payment limitation waiver.

(2) A contract for which the Chief has granted a waiver to the contract limitation set forth in paragraph (d) of this section shall be limited to no more than $900,000.

(f) Water conservation and irrigation efficiency projects with water management entities. NRCS may decline to select an EQIP application from a legal entity who is otherwise eligible under § 1466.6(d) if NRCS determines that the project is better suited to be implemented under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program or 7 CFR part 622.

§ 1466.22 - Conservation practice operation and maintenance (O&M).

(a) The contract will incorporate the O&M agreement that addresses the O&M of conservation practices applied under the contract.

(b) NRCS expects the participant to operate and maintain each conservation practice installed under the contract for its intended purpose for the conservation practice lifespan as specified in the O&M agreement.

(c) Conservation practices installed before the contract execution but included in the contract to obtain the conservation benefits agreed upon, must be operated and maintained as specified in the contract and O&M agreement.

(d) NRCS may periodically inspect the conservation practice during the contract duration as specified in the O&M agreement to ensure that O&M requirements are being carried out and that the conservation practice is fulfilling its intended objectives.

(e) If NRCS finds during the contract that a participant is not operating and maintaining practices in an appropriate manner, NRCS may terminate the contract and request a refund of payments made for that conservation practice under the contract.

§ 1466.23 - Payment rates.

(a) Conservation practices. NRCS will develop a list of conservation practices eligible for payment under the program, which considers:

(1) The conservation practice cost-effectiveness, implementation efficiency, and innovation;

(2) The degree and effectiveness in treating priority resource concerns;

(3) The number of resource concerns the practice addresses;

(4) The longevity of the practice's conservation benefit;

(5) The conservation practice's ability to assist producers in meeting regulatory requirements; and

(6) Other pertinent local considerations.

(b) Payment schedules. The Chief will determine the process and methodology used for development, review, and approval of payment schedules to support accurate and cost-effective delivery of program benefits, including determination of estimated incurred costs and income foregone associated with implementation of all financially-supported conservation practices or activities.

(1) Payment to a participant for performing a practice may not exceed, as determined by NRCS, the maximum payment percentages in paragraphs (b)(1)(i) through (iii) of this section:

(i) Seventy-five percent of the estimated costs incurred by implementing the conservation practice,

(ii) One hundred percent of the estimated income foregone, or

(iii) Both conditions in paragraphs (b)(1)(i) and (ii) of this section, where a producer incurs costs in implementing a conservation practice and foregoes income related to that practice implementation.

(2) In determining the amount and rate of estimated income foregone, NRCS may assign higher significance to conservation practices which promote—

(i) Soil health;

(ii) Water quality and quantity improvement;

(iii) Nutrient management;

(iv) Pest management;

(v) Air quality improvement;

(vi) Wildlife habitat development, including pollinator habitat;

(vii) Invasive species management; or

(viii) Other natural resource concerns of regional or national significance, as determined by NRCS.

(3) Notwithstanding paragraph (b)(1) of this section, a participant that meets the definition of a historically underserved producer under § 1466.3 may be awarded the applicable payment rate and an additional rate that is not less than 25 percent above the applicable rate, provided this increase does not exceed 90 percent of the estimated costs incurred for implementing the conservation practice.

(4) NRCS shall reduce the payments to a participant through EQIP proportionately below the contracted payment rate established by the Chief, so that the total combined payments for a conservation practice from EQIP and other USDA sources does not exceed 100 percent of the estimated costs incurred for implementing or performing the conservation practice.

(5) When NRCS enters into a formal agreement with partners who provide financial support to help implement program initiatives, the Chief shall adjust NRCS program payment percentages to provide practice payment rates to an amount such that the total financial assistance to the participant from NRCS and the partner does not exceed the amount needed to encourage voluntary adoption of the practice. The formal agreement must be approved by NRCS prior to announcement of the program initiative and adjusted payment rates.

(6) NRCS may provide payments for conservation practices on some or all of the operations of a participant related to organic production and the transition to organic production. Payments may not be provided for any costs associated with organic certification, enterprise costs associated with transition to organic production, or for practices or activities that are eligible for financial assistance under the National Organic Program (7 U.S.C. 6523).

(c) High priority practices. (1) NRCS, with input from the State Technical Committee, may designate not more than 10 practices to be eligible for increased payments under paragraph (c)(2) of this section, on the condition that the practice, as determined by NRCS—

(i) Addresses specific causes of impairment relating to excessive nutrients in ground or surface water;

(ii) Addresses the conservation of water, to advance drought mitigation and declining aquifers;

(iii) Meets other environmental priorities and other priority resource concerns identified in habitat or other area restoration plans; or

(iv) Is geographically targeted to address a natural resource concern in a specific watershed.

(2) Notwithstanding paragraph (b) of this section, in the case of a practice designated as high priority under paragraph (c)(1) of this section a participant may receive an increased amount provided the payment does not exceed 90 percent of the incurred costs estimated for the conservation practice.

(d) Source water protection practices. Notwithstanding paragraph (b) of this section, in the case of a practice that is a source water protection practice as identified by the Chief, a participant may receive an increased amount provided the payment does not exceed 90 percent of the incurred costs estimated for the practice.

§ 1466.24 - EQIP payment restrictions and exceptions.

(a) EQIP general aggregate payment limitation. (1) The total amount of financial assistance payments paid to a person or legal entity under this part, during the period of fiscal years 2019 through 2023, may not exceed an aggregate of $450,000, directly or indirectly.

(2) Except as otherwise provided in § 1466.6, the limitation in paragraph (a)(1) of this section cannot be waived.

(b) Organic production aggregate payment limitation. Payments for conservation practices related to organic production to a person or legal entity, directly or indirectly, during the period of fiscal years 2019 through 2023, may not exceed an aggregate of $140,000.

(c) Payment eligibility criteria. To determine eligibility for payments, NRCS will use the criteria in paragraphs (c)(1) through (9) of this section:

(1) The provisions in 7 CFR part 1400, Payment Limitation and Payment Eligibility;

(2) Except as otherwise set forth in this part, States, political subdivisions, and entities thereof are not considered to be producers eligible for payment;

(3) In accordance with 7 CFR part 1400, an applicant applying as a joint operation or legal entity must provide a list of all members of the legal entity and joint operation and associated embedded entities, along with the members' tax identification numbers and percentage interest in the joint operation or legal entity, which all legal entities or persons applying, either alone or as part of a joint operation, must provide to be eligible to receive an EQIP payment;

(4) Contracts with Indian Tribes are not subject to payment or contract limitations, provided that—

(i) Indian Tribes certify in writing that no one individual, directly or indirectly, will receive more than the payment limitation,

(ii) Certification provided at the time of enrollment covers the entire contract period, and

(iii) The Tribal entity provides, upon request from NRCS, a listing of individuals and payment made, by Social Security number or other unique identification number, during the previous year for calculation of overall payment limitations, with the conditions in paragraphs (c)(4)(iii)(A) through (C) of this section:

(A) Payment limitations apply to individual Tribal member(s) when applying and subsequently being granted a contract as an individual(s);

(B) American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Pacific Islanders may use another unique identification number for each individual eligible for payment; and

(C) Any individual Tribal member who is identified utilizing a unique identification number as an alternative to a tax identification number will utilize only that identifier for all contracts to which the individual Tribal member receives a payment directly or indirectly;

(5) Any cooperative association of producers that markets commodities for producers is not eligible for payment;

(6) NRCS will confirm eligibility for payments in accordance with 7 CFR part 1400, subpart F, Average Adjusted Gross Income Limitation, prior to contract approval;

(7) To be eligible for payments for conservation practices related to organic production or the transition to organic production:

(i) Participants who are USDA certified organic producers will implement conservation practices that are consistent with an approved organic system plan (OSP), and

(ii) Participants who are transitioning to organic production (including participants who are exempt from certification as defined by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990) will develop an OSP and implement conservation practices that are consistent with OSP requirements and purposes of the program;

(8) A participant is not eligible for payments for conservation practices on eligible land if the participant receives payments or other benefits for the same practice to address the same resource concern on the same land under any other conservation program administered by USDA; and

(9) Before NRCS approves and issues any EQIP payment, the participant must certify that the conservation practice has been completed in accordance with contract requirements, and NRCS or an approved TSP must certify that the practice has been carried out in accordance with the applicable NRCS FOTG technical standards.

(d) Advance payments. (1) Notwithstanding paragraph (c) of this section, with respect to participants who are historically underserved producers, NRCS may issue advance payments of at least 50 percent and not to exceed 100 percent of the anticipated amount of the costs incurred for the purpose of purchasing materials or services to implement a conservation practice.

(2) Eligibility for advance payment is contingent upon the requirement that the participant obtain an NRCS-approved practice design prior to approval of the advance payment.

(3) The participant must expend advanced funds for practice implementation within 90 days from receipt of funds or return the funds to NRCS within a reasonable time as determined by NRCS.

§ 1466.25 - Contract modifications and transfers of contract rights.

(a) NRCS may modify a contract, if—

(1) The participant agrees to the modification; and

(2) NRCS determines the modified contract continues to meet the purposes of the program.

(b) NRCS may approve a transfer of the contract if—

(1) NRCS receives written notice that identifies the new producer who will take control of the acreage, as required in paragraph (e) of this section;

(2) The new producer meets program eligibility requirements within a reasonable time frame, as specified in the EQIP contract;

(3) The new producer agrees to assume the rights and responsibilities for the acreage under the contract; and

(4) NRCS determines that the purposes of the program will continue to be met despite the original participant's losing control of all or a portion of the land under contract.

(c)(1) Until NRCS approves the transfer of contract rights, the transferee is not a participant in the program and may not receive payment for a conservation practice commenced prior to approval of the contract transfer.

(2) For contract payment purposes, NRCS will consider the transferor to be the participant to whom payments will be made for conservation practices implemented during the pendency of the approval of contract transfer.

(d) NRCS may terminate the entire contract if, within the time specified in the contract, a participant does not provide NRCS with written notice regarding any voluntary or involuntary loss of control of any acreage under the EQIP contract, which includes changes in a participant's ownership structure or corporate form.

(e) Unless NRCS receives timely notice of a loss of control and approves a transfer of contract rights, a participant losing control of any acreage will constitute a violation of the EQIP contract and NRCS may terminate the contract and require a participant to refund all or a portion of any financial assistance provided.

(f) NRCS may not approve a contract transfer and may terminate the contract in its entirety if NRCS determines that the loss of control is voluntary, the new producer is not eligible or willing to assume responsibilities under the contract (including payment rate eligibility), or the purposes of the program cannot be met.

(g) In the event a conservation practice fails through no fault of the participant, NRCS may issue payments to reestablish the practice, at the rates established in accordance with § 1466.23, provided such payments do not exceed the payment limitation requirements as set forth in § 1466.24.

(h) In the case of death, incompetency, or disappearance of any participant, NRCS may, as identified in the EQIP contract—

(1) Terminate the contract;

(2) Make any payments due under this part pursuant to guidance under applicable provisions of 7 CFR parts 707 and 1400 (including payment to successor(s)); or

(3) Take any further action that the Chief determines is fair and reasonable in light of all of the circumstances.

§ 1466.26 - Contract violations and terminations.

(a) NRCS may terminate a contract—

(1) Without the consent of the participant where NRCS determines that the participant violated the contract; or

(2) With the consent of the participant if NRCS determines that the termination is in the public interest.

(b)(1) NRCS may allow a participant in a contract terminated in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (a) of this section to retain a portion of any payments received appropriate to the effort the participant has made to comply with the contract, or in cases of hardship, when forces beyond the participant's control prevented compliance with the contract.

(2) The condition that is the basis for the participant's inability to comply with the contract must not have existed at the time the contract was executed by the participant.

(3) If a participant believes that such a hardship condition exists, the participant may submit a request with NRCS for relief pursuant to this paragraph and any such request must contain documentation sufficient for NRCS to make a determination that this hardship condition exists.

(c)(1) If NRCS determines that a participant is in violation of the terms of a contract, O&M agreement, or documents incorporated by reference into the contract, NRCS may give the participant a reasonable period of time, as determined by NRCS, to correct the violation and comply with the terms of the contract and attachments thereto.

(2) If a participant continues to be in violation after such reasonable time, NRCS may terminate the EQIP contract in accordance with § 1466.26(f).

(d) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (c) of this section, a contract termination is effective immediately upon a determination by NRCS that the participant—

(1) Submitted false information or filed a false claim;

(2) Engaged in any act, scheme, or device for which a finding of ineligibility for payments is permitted under the provisions of § 1466.35; or

(3) Incurred a violation of the contract provisions that cannot be corrected in a timeframe established by NRCS.

(e) If NRCS terminates a contract due to breach of contract, the participant forfeits all rights to future payments under the contract, pay liquidated damages, and refund all or part of the payments received, plus interest.

(1) NRCS may require a participant to provide only a partial refund of the payments received if a previously installed conservation practice can function independently and is not adversely affected by the violation or the absence of other conservation practices that would have been installed under the contract.

(2) NRCS may reduce or waive the liquidated damages depending upon the circumstances of the case.

(3) When terminating a contract, NRCS may reduce the amount of money owed by the participant by a proportion that reflects the good faith effort of the participant to comply with the contract or the existence of hardships beyond the participant's control that have prevented compliance with the contract.

(4) Any participant whose EQIP contract is terminated under paragraph (d) of this section may be subject to debarment or suspension under 7 CFR part 1407.

(f) NRCS may terminate a contract that provides payments to a participant for conservation practices related to organic production, if NRCS determines that the participant is not implementing practices according to provisions of the contract agreement or does not meet provisions of this part.