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WHY APPLY TO NRCS AND STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS TO APPLY

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) can provide substantial conservation support, most notably “EQIP” or “CSP” cost-share assistance, for a multitude of enhancements or “practices” on cropland, pasture, rangeland, forests, small water bodies on farms, and other farm adjacent land. However, the application process is often difficult to understand, the level of advice from agents can vary, the wait for funding can feel long, and some farmers have had bad experiences with the agency in the past. 

Having someone who walks you through the process, and helps you understand your eligibility, what to expect, and what to ask NCRS can make a big difference. That’s what RAFI and our partners Alliance for Agriculture, Green Heffa Farms, Fountain Heights Farm, and Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition are here to do in our Conservation Resources for Resilient Farms project.

We are here to offer you individualized, 1-on-1 support to help you to better understand NRCS, feel confident with your application and required materials, and what to do if you are not selected for funding in the competitive process. 

Didn’t know NRCS financial assistance is a competitive process?  Wondering “what is a ranking deadline?”

NRCS uses ranking dates (also called batching dates) as a way to review, approve, and fund applications at several points throughout the year. This ensures that farmers, graziers, and non-industrial forest landowners looking to establish or enhance conservation practices on their land have several opportunities to receive funding. NRCS accepts applications on a continual basis, and applications received after a ranking/batching date will automatically be considered during the next funding cycle. However, funding for the more popular conservation practices (i.e. high tunnels) or those with less funding can run out and thus an application for that type of financial assistance may never be considered until the following fiscal year. 

That’s why it’s important to contact NRCS with your interest and/or apply before your state’s ranking date. Treat the ranking date as a deadline to apply!  Find your state’s “deadline” here and read the rest of this blog to get step-by-step assistance applying to NRCS.  If you have experienced difficulty in the past or the process does not feel clear, please don’t hesitate to request RAFI’s free, one-on-one assistance.  Contact: Jaimie McGirt at [email protected] or complete this intake form: https://www.tfaforms.com/5077323

Application Instructions

Because some state deadlines have yet to close and other states have reopened new application cycles for assistance in 2024, we’ve provided detailed instructions that you may follow to help you apply on your own.

If any of the below instructions are unclear or you need to talk your conservation ideas or plans through with someone before contacting NRCS, please reach out to Jaimie McGirt at [email protected].

Increased program funding and IRA funding for “climate-smart” specific practices has made this year a monumental opportunity to apply for financial assistance.   So the time to apply is NOW!  Get started with the guidance below, step by step.

STEP 1: Check your state/territory’s ranking date in the chart below.  You will see past dates to get a sense of when your state typically has deadlines, as well as any upcoming ranking dates:

NOTE: If you do not see your state/territory listed here, view all state and territory ranking dates here.


Are you thinking “Yikes! My state deadline is next week?”  Yes, it’s a tight turnaround but the following steps are definitely achievable by those deadlines and will get your foot in the door or your place in line for more planning and assistance from NRCS soon down the road. 

STEP 2: Have you applied in the past or is this your first time applying? If you’ve applied in the past, skip to the section, “For second-time applicants.”

STEP 3: Do you have a farm number? Having a farm number is required to apply, and having an up-to-date farm record is required for further NRCS eligibility. If you do not have a farm number, scroll down to “How to quickly get a farm number,” and once you have the number, you can proceed with the steps below.

STEP 4: Know the contact information and location for your local NRCS and FSA staff. Look them up by state and county here.

STEP 5: Have a sense of what you are applying for, and if you suspect you don’t know the full opportunities for assistance available, please contact Jaimie McGirt [email protected] for free technical assistance.

STEP 6: Apply based on whether you are a first-time applicant or a second-time applicant, following either set of instructions below.

For second-time applicants

STEP 1: Do you have a good relationship with NRCS?

  • If no, please contact Jaimie [email protected] or 984.282.6047.
  • If yes, contact your NRCS agent with guidance in Step 2, just below:

STEP 2: Contact your agent and ask if your prior year application will be “rolled over” to this coming cycle for funding consideration. If it will roll over, ask them to review your application with you. If you are changing the type of assistance you request for 2024 or you are changing where the assistance is requested for, you should ask NRCS how they will revise your prior application form or if you should submit a new one.

NOTE: Producers who have applied and not been selected for cost-share assistance in the past *may* get priority consideration this coming year, depending on rules in your state, and your application might not be allowed to change in order to get this priority. Discuss this with your agent! Tell them if your farm infrastructure or landscape improvement needs have changed since you last applied. Ask them if keeping your application as-is would benefit your chances for assistance, or would you better benefit by revising your application to request assistance for slightly different practices? In some cases, a revised application may have a better outcome than a prior application that gets priority consideration. It will depend and discussing this with your agent is important.

STEP 3: If submitting a new application for 2024 assistance, follow your agent’s instructions or utilize the instructions below. 

For first-time applicants

STEP 1: Have both your farm and your tract/parcel numbers as well as your SNN or business EIN number on hand for application materials. Both farm and tract numbers can be found on the “Farm Record” that FSA issued to you when you received your farm number. 

  • If your farm number was issued so long ago and you don’t know it, or it was in another relative’s name, you will need to contact your local FSA office to request the number in order to complete your NRCS application form. You may need to update your contact information while you are on the phone with FSA.

STEP 2: Email or call your local USDA Service Center NRCS Soil Conservationist to inform them of your intent to apply and that they should look for your application soon.  Look them up your Soil Conservationist contact by state and county here.

  • In your email you should state your name, county, farm number, and how you will submit your application (by email, mail, or in person).
  • PRIVACY NOTE: If you do not want to submit anything with your social security number over email, ask if you can submit with everything filled in EXCEPT the SSN and if they can fill it in for you over the phone once they have your documents in hand. They may tell you to email your application to a specific person handling the paperwork.

To complete Your NRCS Application (if you have a farm number)

STEP 1: Complete the Conservation Program Application form CPA-1200 by hand or electronically (click and then download, save the blank copy, then edit and re-save. Print if you are able for your records. See specific instructions for this form below.

NOTE: The CPA-1200 form serves as an interest or intake form for NRCS staff and gets you consideration for this year’s NRCS cost-share funding. This form is not contractual and does not guarantee you financial support. It will however hold your place for consideration for conservation assistance and funding in the current fiscal year until an agent contacts you to schedule a site visit. If this never happens, contact Jaimie McGirt at RAFI.

  • Instructions for CPA-1200 (the “application”)
    • In the blank “Location where assistance is requested” write: Farm Address, County, your farm number, your tract number
    • In the blank “Assistance requested” write: EQIP and/or CSP assistance for _____ practices to address _____ concerns/problems on ____ part of my farm.

      EXAMPLE 1: “EQIP or CSP assistance for the practice ‘Establishing Wildlife Habitat’ and any other relevant practices to address insufficient terrestrial habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects on my cropland.”

EXAMPLE 2: EQIP assistance for High Tunnel, Cover Crop, Conservation Crop Rotation, and No-Till practices to address crop vigor and soil health issues on my cropland.

NOTE: Because this isn’t a contractual form, nothing you put on here will lock you into a practice, but it will or should make the agent do their research and be more prepared or bring the right people with them for a later scheduled farm visit.

If you are not sure of what exactly you are applying for, please contact Jaimie [email protected] for further guidance and free technical assistance.

STEP 2: If applicable, complete the Historically Underserved Farmer/Rancher form CCC-860. See specific instructions below for this form that could give you access to increased advantages in the application process.

  • Instructions for HUFR Form 860:
    • For field 1A. enter the location of your USDA service center, found here: https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app
    • For 1B enter the phone number of your USDA service center (found in the same place as above)
    • For 1C enter the application year you are applying for: 2024. This is important, don’t write 2023.
    • For Parts A-D, check the boxes that apply to you.  Read the official form instructions on the last page because the rules for checking these boxes are not necessarily intuitive.

STEP 3: Save both forms to a computer or paper file titled “NRCS Application 2024”

STEP 4: Submit the two forms by email, mail, or in-person to your NRCS agent or to anyone else you’re instructed to send it to by your state deadline by 5:00 p.m. You are welcome to copy Jaimie at [email protected] in your email to NRCS. If you email it, state the following in your email:

  • Who you are
  • Your county
  • State why you need NRCS support (state your resource concern(s) and any practices you know you want to implement and where on the farm, plus anything else you need to learn more about during an agent’s future visit to your farm.
  • State that you are applying by the ___ ranking date for Fiscal Year 2024 consideration and to be contacted ASAP if anything in your application or eligibility is missing or incorrect.
  • Ask them to verify if you have up-to-date FSA farm records for FY 2024, including the following up-to-date forms for this new fiscal year:
  • Ask to schedule an appointment with your local USDA Service Center’s NRCS Soil Supervisor, in the office or on the land you manage/own. 

How to quickly get a farm number 

It is not necessarily too late to receive one and apply to NRCS by the ranking date. You will need your photo ID, your SNN, your land’s deed or lease agreement, and a form described below.

STEP 1: Call your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) agent to notify them of your need to apply to NRCS by ____ date and thus your immediate need for a farm number and they will provide further instructions. Or, if you are a confident email user, see the alternative step 1 below.

The agent may ask for your email and send you the “Customer Data Worksheet” to complete and sign. This form is like an application for a farm number. Be sure to ask if an “electronic signature” (tying your name) on the form will suffice. If it will not and you have to hand-sign, you will need a way to print, scan/take a picture of the completed form, and email it back to your agent. If you don’t use email or you don’t know how to save and send documents over email, plan to visit the office in person.

  • PRIVACY NOTE: If you do not want to submit anything with your social security number over email, ask if you can submit with everything filled in EXCEPT the SSN and if they can fill it in for you over the phone once they have your documents in hand. They may tell you to email your application to a specific person handling the paperwork.

STEP 2: For an in-person visit to get a farm number, bring your photo ID, a copy of your deed or farm/land lease agreement, and your Social Security card or other SSN ID.

STEP 3: Complete the Customer Data Worksheet with FSA. Save a copy of this form and any other forms you submit to FSA (they can copy them for you). Request a Receipt of Service before you leave!

ALTERNATIVE STEP 1:

  • Email both your local service center’s FSA agent and the NRCS Soil Supervisor with your name, desire to apply for NRCS assistance by ____ date, your county, farm/forestland address, and attach the following documents:
    • a completed Customer Data Worksheet
    • A copy of your photo ID
    • A copy of the land’s deed or lease agreement with your legal name apparent
  • Request they call you on the phone to receive your SNN.  
  • Request they provide a receipt of service with their reply.

If you provide sufficient documents and if the agent can easily locate your farm in their mapping system, some agents will create a farm record and issue you a farm number within the week. We don’t like to say it, but others can take up to three months or in some cases, more.

STEP 2: Save the Customer Data Sheet and a copy of the email to your computer.

STEP 3: After they have replied and indicated if they can provide a farm number in the time you’ve requested, monitor your email, or look out for a call from their office. 

Receiving a farm number or “farm record” means you will be provided a multi-page document with information about your acreage and a farm map. Your farm number will be located on the top right corner of the first page.If you have applied to NCRS in the past, been denied, or have other questions about applying for NRCS assistance or want support in preparing for an NRCS agent to visit your farm or forest land, please reach out to Jaimie McGirt at [email protected]. You can learn more about our NRCS technical assistance here.

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