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5 Tips For Applying to the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative

For those looking to launch a high tunnel farm in 2019, funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) can offer a much-needed helping hand. But when it comes to the application process, many farmers may run into difficulty - and we’re here to help make it a little easier.

At Rimol Greenhouse Systems, we know the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative well - mainly, because we’ve been crafting high tunnels designed specifically to fit the specifications of the program for years. In that time, we’ve seen our customers apply for and receive funding from NRCS with success, and learned a few helpful tips along the way.

Here’s a look at our 5 top tips for ensuring your application for the NRCS High Tunnel initiative goes as smoothly as possible, so you can get down to growing without missing a beat.

1. Know Your State’s Local Rules & Qualifications

Although the NRCS Initiative may be overseen by the USDA, individual grants are actually given on a state-by-state basis. Each state has different pools of funds to distribute and, often, varying qualifications in each state dictating which farms are eligible for funding.

For farmers, that means it’s important to know what is required for your state specifically when applying for NRCS funding. Where you send your application (and who you speak with) will depend on your location, so be sure you know where your local NRCS office is located.

Additionally, the NRCS High Tunnel Initiative offers funding from two separate pools of funds: the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), and the Agricultural Management Assistance Program (AMA).

  • USDA describes EQIP as “a voluntary conservation program that helps agricultural producers in a manner that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible goals.” That means recipients are often selected as a result of their implementation of conservation practices that optimize environmental benefits on working agricultural land.
     
  • AMA, although similar in scope, “provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to voluntarily address issues such as water management, water quality, and erosion control by incorporating conservation into their farming operations.” The focus for AMA relies much more on water conservation and erosion prevention rather than broader environmental compatibility.

How you set up your farm may impact which kind of funding you should apply for, and so it’s important to stay focused on these differences before, during, and after the application process.

2. Clearly Define Your Goals & Eligibility

Once you have determined where you will be sending your application, and which type of funding you will apply for, it’s a good idea to thoroughly plan out why you will benefit from the NRCS Initiative. That means clearly laying out the goals of your project to better determine your eligibility to receive funding.

What Will Your Farm Accomplish?

Before setting out on the application process, it helps to set out a plan for what you hope to achieve with your farm, and why NRCS funding will be a critical component to your success as a new or small-scale farmer:

  • What problems will you solve with your high tunnel? This may determine whether you decide to apply for EQIP or AMA funding, depending on your overall conservation and crop production goals.
     
  • How will the grant help you achieve that goal? What restrictions and costs currently exist for your farm that would be alleviated with the help of NRCS funding? What unique challenges does your farm face that other applicants may not be up against?

Does Your Farm Qualify Under NRCS Rules?

In order to provide funding for a wide range of farmers, NRCS funding is limited in terms of what types of farms may be applicable, as well as how eligible farms are selected and vetted by the USDA.

  • Farms don't qualify if their net receivables are over $1 million. Where does your production fit in comparison?
     
  • Often, the process included a one-on-one discussion with NRCS representatives - are you prepared to answer in-depth questions on your farm?
     
  • “Historically Disadvantaged” farmers from specific cultural, racial, and geographical areas, as well as “Beginning Farmers” just starting their first farm, may qualify for additional support. Do you qualify under either of these definitions?
     
  • Do your farm and high tunnel meet the size, materials, and durability requirements dictated by NRCS guidelines?*

* Worried about compliance? We’ve got you covered. Rimol High Tunnel systems have been approved by the NRCS as qualifying EQIP structures in a number of states.

3. Plan Out Your Proposed Farm

Once you have a plan in place for which type of funding you will apply for and why, it’s time to get into the finer details of your farm itself. This is the time to plan out what you will grow, where, when you will harvest, and how your strategy will be sustainable for future seasons.

It is required, for instance, that all crops be grown in the ground in order for your high tunnel to qualify for NRCS funding. That means that hydroponic and other soil-free farming practices will not be applicable for NRCS funding.

This is a farmer’s chance to identify key problems in your growing that can be solved or eased with the implementation of a high tunnel, and is a necessary step toward securing funding under the NRCS initiative.

4. Consider Implementing Conservation Practices

Because both EQIP and AMA funding through the NRCS Initiative each focus distinctly on conservation, it is likely a smart idea to implement some of these basic conservation practices on your farm to raise your chances of being selected as a grant recipient.

Typically, enacting conservation practices like planting pollinator crops, erosion control plantings, and mulching practices will improve your odds of receiving the grant if you apply for other conservation programs alongside NRCS funding.

What’s more, some states have even come to require that advanced conservation supporting practices be implemented in order to obtain NRCS funding, including irrigation systems, subsurface drainage, field ditch construction, and other water- and contaminant-focused practices.

While it’s important to know your state’s current requirements, it is also just good practice to plan ahead for your conservation, energy efficiency, and water retention needs moving forward, and implementing these practices today and may even benefit your farm’s overall efficiency in the future.

5. Submit Your Application Correctly & On Time

After all the hard work of learning what is required of NRCS recipients in your state, getting your farm ready for the application process, and filling out all of the application paperwork, there is still one major hurdle that can set your efforts back to square one - not submitting your application correctly, or on time.

Applications for NRCS funding must be submitted to the proper state based on your location, and grants for each state may be released at different times of the year. Errors, issues, overlooked sections, and late filing can all hinder your chances of receiving the grant.

The process also requires a site visit from your local representative, who will do site mapping of your farm. This is a critical and unavoidable part of the process and should be accounted for before you move forward with your application process.

Additionally, the application process usually takes several months, so it pays to plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to prepare.

Rimol Greenhouse Systems Is Here To Help

We know the most common stumbling blocks, holdups, and questions around applying for NRCS Initiative Program funding because we’ve been close to the program since the beginning - and we’ve seen plenty of our customers successfully secure funding thanks to a smart strategy, and the right equipment.

One way we make the process easier: by constructing all of our high tunnels to specifically fit the NRCS program, earning our greenhouses the distinction of qualifying EQIP structures in a number of states. That, combined with our hands-on approach to customer service, have given us insight into the process that can help any new or growing farmer.

Ready to start your application process? Get in touch today and see what we can do to help you achieve the funding you need, and how our high tunnels can help ease the process so you can get back to what matters most - running your farm, the best way you can.

Together, We Grow!