NB_440_23_05 - NB 440-23-05 PGM - Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Program, Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Application Processing, Contract Oblig
NB 440-23-05 PGM - Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Program, Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Application Processing, Contract Oblig
National Bulletin: 440-23-05 
Date: November 17, 2022 
Subject: PGM – Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Program, Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Application Processing, Contract Obligation and Funds Assessment Guidance

Action Required By:  March 1, June 1, July 27, September 15     
Purpose.  To provide State conservationists (STCs) and directors of the Pacific Islands and Caribbean areas with procedural guidance for accepting and processing applications; obligating funds, submitting funds assessment requests and returns; and monitoring FY 2023 allocations for the AMA program, CSP and EQIP. 
Expiration Date.  September 30, 2023 
Background.  The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) authorized NRCS to provide technical assistance (TA) and financial assistance (FA) to producers through AMA, CSP, and EQIP. AMA is available in 16 states where participation in the Federal Crop Insurance Program is historically low: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. CSP and EQIP are available in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to help agricultural and forestry producers address resource concerns.

Additionally, each fiscal year National Headquarters (NHQ) evaluates the status of financial assistance program obligations and considers State requests for additional FA and TA funding needs to meet conservation targets.
Explanation.  States must use the guidance in this bulletin, along with policy in Title 180, “National Planning Procedures Handbook (NPPH);” Title 440, Conservation Programs Manual (440-CPM), Part 502 “Terms and Abbreviations Common to All Programs;” Part 530 “Working Lands Conservation Program Manual;” NI 440-307, “Instructions for Implementing National Program and Landscape Conservation Initiatives,” NI 440-310 “NRCS Program Ranking through Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART);” State allocation letter, and training, to prepare for and announce program opportunities, complete assessments, accept and process applications, and evaluate requests for funding.

Note: States will follow applicable portions of this national bulletin (NB) and related covered program policy in support of FY 2023 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)-CSP and RCPP-EQIP awards associated with new applications and contracts received under active 2014 Farm Bill RCPP projects, including information herein on signup announcements and ranking. Other elements of this NB, including information on availability of funds, funding targets, disaster assistance, fund assessment and EQIP-Conservation Incentive Contracts (CIC) do not apply to RCPP-CSP and RCPP-EQIP. The 2014 Farm Bill RCPP funds are managed at the project level per 440-CPM Part 529. The RCPP partnership agreements set the project objectives and deliverables, which limit availability or applicability of changes to the covered program authorities derived from the 2018 Farm Bill.

Signup announcements and application cut-off deadlines

A. STCs will advertise program application periods and ranking deadlines following 440-CPM-530-B-530.12, “Funding Preparation Activities.”
B. States may announce signup cutoff dates prior to receiving the FY 2023 program allocation but must not preapprove applications until funds are available and preparation activities have been completed.
C. For special landscape-scale initiatives States will be notified to release signup information after the Chief or Department has made the national announcement.
D. CSP FY 2023 renewal applications that were not funded and are deferred, pending, eligible, preapproved, or approved status may be evaluated for funding under the FY 2023 CSP general signup. For these applications States will change the signup number in ProTracts to “CSP-2023-1.”
E. Participants with FY 2023 renewal applications that were determined to be ineligible or who cancelled their application may re-apply by providing a new NRCS-CPA-1200, “Conservation Program Application,” (version 10/2021) to be considered for funding under the next available FY 2023 CSP general sign-up period.

Note: Guidance for the FY 2024 CSP Renewals sign-up will be released under a separate directive.
Fund availability

A. NHQ will provide annual FA and TA instructions to STC and directors through the FY2023 State Advisory Full Year Allocations letter and separate allocation letters for certain landscape and programmatic initiatives, such as AMA-Risk Management Agency (RMA), Water Bank Program (WBP), etc.
B. For allocation requests related to natural disasters and emergency conservation assistance refer to NI 440-312, “Addressing Natural Disasters Using NRCS Financial Assistance Program Funds.”

Funding Targets

A. States should refer to 440-CPM-530 for funding targets in the following subparts:
(1) Subpart B, “Managing Funds,”
(2) Subpart P, “Agricultural Management Assistance,”
(3) Subpart Q, “Conservation Stewardship Program,”
(4) Subpart R, “Environmental Quality Incentives Program,” and
(5) Subpart S, “RCPP-Land Management and Rental Producer Contracts”

B. Refer to FY 2023 State Advisory Full Year Allocations letter for mandatory funding targets.

State Required Actions

A. Deferring Applications

(1) Defer prior year unfunded applications to the new FY as soon as practical after October 1. Refer to 440-CPM-530-C-530.23H and 440-CPM-530-E-530.41A(2).
(2) If an applicant wishes to withdraw their application, it must be marked “cancelled” in the appropriate business tool and documented in the case file.
(3) Applications that are not cancelled must be promoted in the appropriate business tool to the first sign-up for the new FY.

B. Outreach Activities

(1) Refer to 440-CPM-530.5, “Information, Outreach and Training,” to ensure potential program participants are aware of, understand, and have access to conservation programs and services.
(2) States must update State webpages in accordance with policy in 440-CPM-530.12, “Funding Preparation Activities."
(3) Refer to 440-CPM-530, Subparts P, Q, R and S, and 440-CPM-531, as applicable, for policies to determine State priority areas, priority resource concerns, practices, and activities to offer, and other program specific requirements.

C. CART Ranking Pools, ProTracts Subaccounts and Spending Plans

(1) Establish subaccounts in ProTracts and corresponding ranking pools in CART. States are encouraged to match subaccount names with ranking pool names for ease in linking the two within the Select Applications Tool (SAT).
(2) Use guidance provided in NI 440-310 and applicable attachments to create State ranking pools.
(3) If screening criteria is used to manage workload refer to 440-CPM-530-D-530.32, “Screening.”

D. Application and Planning

(1) States will follow policy in 440-CPM-530, Subpart C “Application for Assistance,” and applicable program-specific subparts for guidance on accepting applications, and documents required to determine eligibility.
(2) Refer to 440-CPM-530, Subpart D, “Application Processing,” for guidance on planning, screening, assessing, and ranking requests for assistance.
(3) States will use the current NRCS-CPA-1200, “Conservation Program Application” and program appendices available on eForms for all new applications received. States should not use the NRCS-CPA-1200 available in ProTracts.
(4) Applicants may access and submit applications through Farmers.gov.
(5) States will follow Title 180, NPPH and 440-CPM-530-D-530.31, “Planning,” when developing the conservation plan associated with an application request.
E. Contract Development
(1) Follow contract development guidance in 440-CPM-530, Subpart E, “Contract Development and Requirements,” along with program specific guidance in Subparts P, Q, R, and S, and other directives issued by NHQ, as applicable.
(2) Preobligation checklists must be completed for each application prior to contract obligation according to 440-CPM-530.41(C)(3). For applicable pre-obligation checklists refer to program-specific subpart exhibits. AMA does not require a pre-obligation checklist to be completed.
(3) NRCS-CPA-1155, “Schedule of Operations,” will be used to record historically underserved (HU) participants’ elections to receive advance payments for EQIP on a contract item basis. Refer to 440-CPM-530.52(D).

• AMA provides HU rates but is not authorized to provide advance payments.
• CSP provides targeted funding for beginning farmers and ranchers (BFR) and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers (SDFR) but does not provide advance payments or increased payment rates.

(4) States are encouraged to set internal milestones for application processing and obligations to ensure national deadlines are met.

AMA, CSP, EQIP, and programmatic initiative applications must be obligated by September 15, 2023.

States will complete a 5 percent administrative review of participant certifications during the first year of the contract (before payment is made) for participants who self-certify as limited resource, beginning, or veteran farmer or rancher. Refer to 440-CPM-530.71(C). 

F. Contract Reviews and Quality Assurance

(1) Refer to 440-CPM-530, Subpart H, “Contract Review and Quality Assurance”, for required pre-obligation, second-level and administrative reviews.
(2) Refer to 440-CPM-530.71, “Review Type” for information on annual contract reviews, advance payments, payment, and other required administrative reviews.

Programmatic Initiatives, Landscape Conservation Initiatives (LCI) and other initiatives

A. States will follow NI 440-310 to establish LCI subaccounts and ranking pools in CART.
B. NHQ will monitor the programmatic initiatives. Refer to NI 440-307 “Instructions for Implementing National Program and Landscape Conservation Initiatives,” for guidance related to these initiatives.
C. Refer to NI 440-313 “Guidance for Source Water Protection Targeting and Implementation to Meet the 2018 Farm Bill Provision.”

Disaster Assistance

A. Refer to NI 440-312 “Addressing Natural Disasters Using NRCS Financial Assistance Program Funds.”

EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts (EQIP-CIC)

A. Additional guidance will be released for FY 2023 EQIP-CIC implementation in the-near-future.
B. Refer to 440-CPM-530.408, “EQIP Conservation Incentives Contracts.”
C. States will allocate at least $200,000 or 5 percent of their EQIP General allocation, whichever is greater, to EQIP-CIC. States must not allocate more than 20 percent of the EQIP General allocation to EQIP-CIC.
D. EQIP-CIC will offer the same payment rates as EQIP General for conservation practices. NRCS policy does not preclude a State from having multiple payment schedules, however, it is recommended that States use only one payment schedule for EQIP and EQIP-CIC to meet the program intent and avoid issues with payment rates.
E. States will establish high priority area (HPA), priority resource concerns, and eligible land uses following 440-CPM-530.408.
F. States will choose the account type in ProTracts of “EQIP-CIC” and all applications for EQIP-CIC must use the application type of “Incentive”.
G. EQIP-CIC has its own pre-obligation checklist and CPC-appendix which can be found in 440-CPM-530, subpart R.
H. All training materials and supplemental information for EQIP-CIC can be found on the Deputy Chief of Programs (DCP) SharePoint site under: Resources – Farm Bill Training Webinars – EQIP-CIC Training.

Funding Assessments

NHQ will offer two “Funding Assessment” periods for States to request additional FA and TA funds for AMA, CSP General, EQIP Classic, LCI and national initiatives during the FY. State requests must be received by March 1, 2023, and June 1, 2023. NHQ will evaluate the status of FA program obligations, including departmental and agency priorities, funding targets and other criteria, when assessing State requests.

States will use the FAPD SharePoint "Funds Assessment Request" site to request funds. States should ensure that internal deadlines allow the funds to be utilized by the nationally established deadlines.

States that are unable to use their entire allocations must return excess FA and associated TA funds, including national programmatic, landscape conservation initiative, other national initiative, and disaster assistance funds, as soon as possible to allow for redistribution to other States. Refer to the FY 2023 State Advisory Full Year Allocations letter for the program TA return rates.
States will utilize the FMMI Allotment Planning and Management (APM) tool to return FA and TA funds. All unused funds must be returned by July 27, 2023.
Note: RCPP funds are managed on a project basis, and do not follow the standard annual funds assessment process. Refer to 440-CPM-530.501, “RCPP Funds Management,” 440-CPM-531, “RCPP Land Management and Rental Producer Contracts,” NI 440-316, “Guidance for Regional Conservation Partnership Program Programmatic Partnership Agreements,” and annually published project management guidance for additional information on RCPP funds requests and associated PPA amendments. 
Contact.  For questions related to information in this bulletin, contact Ronnie Maurer, Financial Assistance Programs Division (FAPD), Branch Chief, at ronnie.maurer@usda.gov, or request information through the appropriate state contact at the FAPD SharePoint-Program Questions site.


Acting Deputy Chief for Programs

Additional References:

• NI 440 Part 314 – Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) Waiver Process
• NI 440 Part 319 – NRCS Acceptable Signature Methods
• NI 440 Part 320 – Guidance for Implementing Conservation Planning Activity, Design and Implementation Activity, and Conservation Evaluation and Monitoring Activity
• NI 450 Part 308 – Agricultural Air Quality Conservation Measures Reference Guides    
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