Debunking the Top Misconceptions about Farm Conservation Programs

Introducing soil health practices is a smart investment in your farm, particularly as healthy soil is more resilient to climate shifts. But many growers struggle with how to fund that investment. Payments from a carbon program are just one funding option; farm conservation grants and low-interest loans through the government are another. Bundling them together can put a meaningful dent in your costs and get you one step closer to reaping the long-term agronomic and financial benefits of healthy soil, clean water and improved biodiversity. 

Many farmers focus on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) which channels almost $2 billion per year to farmers for soil health practices. Unfortunately, the program’s low application acceptance rate (less than a third of farmers who applied between 2010 and 2020 were awarded contracts), complicated forms, and some common misconceptions dissuade some farmers from applying. We’re here to bust through those misconceptions and explain why you should seriously consider funding from conservation programs.

Myth #1

There aren’t a lot of options for row crop farmers besides EQIP

EQIP covers a long list of on-farm practices, including cover cropping, no-till, fencing and riparian buffers. But it’s certainly not the only option. There are dozens of programs available through the USDA-NRCS , SARE, plus a host of state, local and private funding options.

Myth #2

The application process is difficult and I have to do all the work myself

Not true! The NRCS has a national network of offices staffed with experts down to the county level who can identify and help you apply to its programs.

Corteva has also partnered with FarmRaise, a simplified farm funding app that helps you apply for major USDA cost-share programs in less than 20 minutes. FarmRaise has the most robust database of funding programs and will match you with federal, state and local programs relevant to your operation.

Myth #3

If I don’t follow all the program guidelines, the government can take my land

Money doesn’t come “for free” – but you’ll never risk losing your land for a contract violation under NRCS contracts. Every program has eligibility and program participation requirements to obtain funding. NRCS staff are knowledgeable and will work with farmers to ensure you understand program provisions, including any potential fees for contract violations and the limited situations where they apply. 

Myth #4

If I sign up for funding, the government can come onto my farm whenever they like

The NRCS and other government agencies work closely with farmers to help support new soil health practices. Agency staff will communicate with you to schedule farm visits to complete agreed-to tasks including: 

  • When you apply – to get a better understanding of your land and proposed project
  • After you install your practice – to verify that everything is in line with your contract specifications
  • For a random spot check – but these visits are extremely rare

In certain situations, if access is denied, program benefits may be forfeited.

Myth #5

I don’t want anyone telling me how to farm. Don’t these programs have practice mandates? 

Yes, we’ve heard from farmers that the NRCS practice standards can be limiting. For example, the NRCS may tell you what cover crop to plant and when. This can be a positive, however, as NRCS standards and specifications reflect scientific data on what works and what doesn’t in different geographies across the country.

When you enroll, you are paired with a local NRCS representative who can answer your questions, provide agronomic advice, and discuss any concerns you may have.

Myth #6

I can’t get EQIP funding because I have a small farm

No question, EQIP is competitive. One reason why is because the USDA has “resource priority concerns” – a complex application ranking system that prioritizes environmental issues by state. Farmers who have a solid project idea that’s also in line with their state priority resource concern will have a strong chance. 

Don’t be discouraged from applying regardless of your farm’s size. Farm size is not a part of EQIP ranking criteria, and extra effort is taken to keep the ranking criteria fair for all farm sizes. Similarly, e​xtra financial incentives and ranking considerations are frequently available for beginning farmers* and historically underserved producers.

Myth #7

Even with EQIP, I can’t afford to invest in soil health practices

EQIP and most other programs are structured as financial incentives and farmers are often required to come up with some of the funds (these can be in the form of “sweat equity” or the labor and time you contribute). Most programs deliver funding as a reimbursement. If you are an historically underserved or beginning farmer, the NRCS may increase cost-share up to 90% (rather than the standard 75% rate), and you can apply to receive some advance funding.

But don’t let concerns about cash flow dissuade you from investing in new practices. There are funding options available. For example, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) lends billions of dollars to farmers every year at low interest rates for operating and ownership loans. 

*The government considers “beginning farmers” to be anyone with less than 10 years of experience.  You must have some farming experience to get most grants.

Have specific questions about your eligibility for a carbon program?