The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) delivered the positive news and will accept and manage the incoming EQIP applications. NRCS said they will prioritize applications that address three objectives: Improved soil health, nitrogen stewardship, and irrigation water management.

Friday, farmers and conservation industry representatives held a press conference here at Isbell Farms to announce the immediate availability of $2.5 million in additional funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in Arkansas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) delivered the positive news and will accept and manage the incoming EQIP applications.  NRCS said they will prioritize applications that address three objectives: Improved soil health, nitrogen stewardship, and irrigation water management.

Irrigation water management is particularly important to rice farmers in improving energy efficiency, soil and water quality, sustaining wildlife habitat, and addressing the growing issue of water quantity. Earlier this year, the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership provided more than $2.2 million in EQIP funding through their NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project, Sustaining the Future of Rice with a complimentary focus on irrigation water management practices.  More than 330 EQIP applications were submitted by rice farmers across the state through the USA Rice project showing a significant demand for voluntary, incentive-based conservation financial assistance.

Mike Sullivan, the NRCS state conservationist for Arkansas, kicked off the press conference and turned the mic over to producers, Robby Bevis and Mark Isbell to discuss soil health and irrigation water management work they're doing on their own operations.  USDA staff, Dr. Michele Reba and John Lee, representing the Agricultural Research Service and NRCS in Arkansas, also provided commentary on greenhouse gas production in rice fields and nitrogen stewardship, respectively.

Sullivan said, "With the extra funding Arkansas has been given for this EQIP, we are focusing on three areas, soil health, nutrient management, and specifically for rice producers, intermittent flooding, also known as Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD). We consider AWD a win-win situation...it reduces costs on the production side, uses less water, less energy, and also reduces methane emissions."

 Of the work being done on his operation, Isbell said, "U.S. rice production has been on the forefront of private land conservation for decades.  We believe that the Alternate Wetting and Drying strategy will play a key role as that story continues to be written."

Arkansas NRCS is urging farmers to visit their local USDA NRCS field service center to submit EQIP applications no later than June 10, 2016 to be considered for the additional allocation.  USA Rice is encouraging Arkansas rice farmers with applications not funded through the RCPP EQIP sign-up to consider resubmitting their request through this unique opportunity.