Orchards and vineyards are the top priorities in north central Washington for allocation of funds through the federal government’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Amy Hendershot, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service based in Wenatchee, Washington, said that for 2009, 11 growers in Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan counties are sharing $327,000 in EQIP funds to implement conservation practices in their orchards or vineyards. Applications for funding in 2010 must be submitted by July 15.

The number-one priority in terms of the type of project funded is the adoption of advanced integrated pest management practices. Other activities that qualify for funding include the transition to a reduced-risk pesticide program; irrigation system upgrades; nutrient management in either organic or conventional systems; tree and shrub plantings; and enhancement of wildlife habitat. The awards are a fixed amount per acre, rather than a percentage of the project cost.

EQIP is a competitive program, with preference given to beginning farmers, those with limited resources, and the socially disadvantaged. Hendershot said the NRCS received a large number of applications from orchardists in 2008, so only a small percentage could be funded. In 2009, when it received very few applications, the chances of being funded were high.

Raul Sanchez, who has ten acres of apples and cherries north of Wenatchee, was a successful applicant in 2008 and was awarded $3,000 per year for three years. He is building kestrel and owl boxes for bird control and bat boxes to enhance biological control of insects, such as codling moth, He is also installing wood as nesting sites for orchard mason bees, which fly in cooler temperatures than honeybees. "I’m excited about it," said Sanchez. He applied for EQIP funding at the urging of the late Naná Simone, who worked with him as a consultant.

Hendershot encourages growers to reapply if they are not successful the first time. Although the initial application can be time consuming, renewing it for subsequent years is relatively simple because the NRCS keeps the applications on file. "The persistent ones do get funded eventually," she said.

For information, call Hendershot at (509) 664-9303, or check the Web site at www.wa.nrcs.usda.gov.