Carlos Suarez, state conservationist for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced an initiative under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) designed to help agricultural producers in Florida transition to more energy efficient operations.

While this is a continuous signup, applications for 2010 funding must be received by the June 17, 2010 cut-off date.

Through EQIP, NRCS will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of an Agricultural Energy Management Plan (AgEMP). The evaluation of energy conservation activities includes energy used in the cultivation, protection harvesting, processing, and storage of agricultural crops and in the feeding, housing, and processing of animals and animal products. The AgEmp initiative is designed to save both money and energy when fully implemented. Applications will be funded as requests are received and eligibility has been determined.

USDA and agriculture producers have a common interest in improving sustainability of their agricultural operations through the promotion of on-farm energy audit evaluations as well as assistance in the implementation of energy conservation and efficiency measures. Energy audits will be individually tailored to ensure coverage of each farm's primary energy uses. Simple changes in a landowner’s agricultural operations can help farmers and ranchers achieve significant cost and energy savings.

AgEMPs will be developed by a Technical Service Provider (TSP), who is certified by NRCS and placed on an “approved list” to provide technical assistance to producers for specific conservation programs administered by USDA. Your local NRCS office can provide you with the name(s) of certified TSPs. EQIP payments will be made directly to program participants for development of an AgEMP by a certified TSP.

Interested producers should visit their nearest USDA Service Center to determine eligibility. Individuals are not eligible for EQIP until they have completed the farm bill eligibility requirements. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?agency=nrcs to begin this process.

For more information about agricultural energy management plans visit http://www.fl.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/eqip/flagemp.html or you may contact Kenneth Morgan, Conservation Program Specialist, at (352) 338-9545, or via email at kenneth.morgan@fl.usda.gov.