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Naná Simone

A year of action by Washington tree fruit industry groups has resulted in improved access and funding for growers who seek assistance through the Environ­mental Quality Incentives Program. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency that considers implementation of conservation practices and economic viability as compatible goals. The intent of EQIP is to support the adoption of practices that are not already fully implemented by an applicant.

For 2008, the Conservation Service approved 24 orchard contracts in Washington including irrigation system conversions and pest management practices. Although $1 million was allocated, there were many more applications than available funds. About 22 percent of the applications (30 percent of the monetary value) were funded. Past applicants should consider reapplying, since they may rank high enough the next year to be funded.

An important program change for 2009 is new funding for projects that focus primarily on improving pest management practices and do not involve an irrigation conversion. Three Conservation Service area teams will allocate 10 to 15 percent of their total EQIP funds to orchard integrated pest management.

The deadline for submitting applications to NRCS for 2009 is July 15. However, growers who apply by June 1 may receive priority consideration, since earlier contact with NRCS will allow their staff to do site visits with growers for conservation planning before completing the application process.

Growers have the opportunity to adopt a wide range of practices that will result in environmental benefits and improved sustainability of their farms through EQIP. Highlights for tree fruit growers for the upcoming ­funding cycle include:

• Continued funding to support irrigation system conversions, which may be within orchard or from another crop into orchard. The south central Washington team (Benton, Yakima, and Klickitat Counties) and Big Bend team (Grant, Adams, and Kittitas Counties) favor rill to sprinkler or drip conversions. In north central Washington (Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan Counties), any conversion that increases efficiency of water use by 10 percent or more can be funded. A sample payment is $975 per acre for micro­irrigation, with a contract cap of $50,000.

• Specific integrated pest management practices funded include IPM planning, codling moth mating disruption, conversion to low-risk pesticides, and purchase of low-volume precision orchard sprayers and weed-sensing technology. The Conservation Service will fund removal of abandoned orchards but with a plant-back restriction to any crop of five years. Payments for these practices are:
—Pest management annual plan (basic requirement for IPM), $1,000 per contract per year

—Codling moth mating disruption and ­monitoring, $125 per acre

—Use of reduced-risk pesticides, $75 per acre

—Use of low-volume tower sprayers purchased during contract period, $50 per acre

—Abandoned orchard removal, $600 per acre

• Assistance to enhance wildlife and habitat for beneficial insects such as predators and native pollinators is favorably regarded in applications. For example, EQIP supports planting of rose gardens
as described in the July 2007 Good Fruit Grower.

• Practices can be funded up to three years, and those for pest management are capped at $25,000 per ­contract.

• Other practices funded, and regarded as important by NRCS, are soil moisture monitoring for irrigation scheduling and soil sampling for nutrients. Uses of compost, manure, and weed-barrier fabric are also on the schedule.

How to apply

Visit your local USDA Farm Services Agency to get your farm into the system, to assure EQIP eligibility. You may apply for more than one farm. Stop at the Conservation Service office in the same building, and fill out the one-page application cover sheet.

Set up an appointment to meet with NRCS staff and arrange a farm visit. Make a list of your goals, natural resource concerns, and environmentally sensitive areas for your farm to discuss with the conservationist.

Applications that include multiple practices have a higher priority for funding because they offer greater conservation benefits.

The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, Washington State University Pest Management Transition Project, and Washington State Horticultural Association have supported efforts to enable orchardists to participate in the program.

To learn more about EQIP

Visit the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission’s Web site at: www.treefruitresearch.com/ and the NRCS Web Site at www.wa.nrcs.usda.gov/news/our ­purpose/COPOP.html (click Programs/).

Contact Naná Simone, Washington tree fruit industry EQIP coordinator at (509) 667-9557, or by e-mail at nanas@nwi.net. •