The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced Dec. 19, 2014 and Feb. 20, 2015 as the next cut-off dates for Massachusetts farmers and forest land owners to apply for funding under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) program.

Both programs were authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill. EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers and forest land owners to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation or improved or created wildlife habitat. AMA is designed to mitigate crop loss due to drought and features irrigation practices

Farmers may apply for EQIP and AMA anytime during the year. All eligible and complete applications received by the cut-off dates will be evaluated and ranked for funding. A conservation plan must be completed before an application can be considered for funding, so farmers are encouraged to call or stop by their local NRCS field office as soon as possible.

USDA Service Center locations are listed on-line at http://offices.usda.gov or in the phone book under Federal Government, U.S. Department of Agriculture. General program information is available on the NRCS Massachusetts website at www.ma.nrcs.usda.gov.

“If you operate a farm or manage forest land and want to make improvements to your land, we can help,” said Christine Clarke, State Conservationist for NRCS in Massachusetts. “A planner will discuss with you your vision for your land, and will explain the conservation planning process and how to apply for financial assistance.”

“Folks should be aware that the entire process can take six to 12 months from initial request to implementation of their project,” said Clarke. “So, ask us for assistance as soon as you’ve identified a natural resource concern on your land.”

Passage of the 2014 Farm Bill resulted in changes to EQIP, some of which include folding the former Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) into EQIP; increasing the six-year payment limitation to $450,000; and adding Veterans to the list of farmers eligible for increased payment rates and advanced payments. AMA has an annual payment limit of $50,000.