Conservation Agriculture: What is the EQIP Program & How Can It Benefit Farmers?

Were you aware that approximately half of Earth’s habitable land is dedicated to the agriculture that grows our food?  With such a large footprint, it’s no surprise that human and environmental health is profoundly impacted by our level of commitment to agricultural conservation practices.  Translating conservation agriculture onto a working farm can be tricky. Farmers know what’s good for the land, but an onslaught of persistent and pressing challenges often prevents them from doing what they need to ensure long-term viability for their farms and a healthier global food chain.  

 In the U.S., various financial incentives exist to help farmers transition to practices that empower them to uphold agriculture conservation in a way that benefits all stakeholders, from farmer to consumer. When the opportunity arises to use these incentives with technology designed for long-term profitability and sound, sustainable farms, it can become a powerful advantage for a farm’s long-term success, beneficial for the community that surrounds it, and ultimately help restore the planet’s ability to host a high quality of life.  

Agriculture and Conservation

When it comes to conservation practices in agriculture, one incentive that’s attracting nationwide attention is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program or EQIP Program. With EQIP, NRCS is addressing agriculture and conservation through ag’s most popular piece of equipment, the tractor. 

The All-Important Tractor 

Farmers feed the world and they couldn’t do it without the tractor. This staple of the farming industry is the most versatile and essential piece of equipment, serving as the powerhouse for various agricultural operations. Conventional tractor technology has not changed in more than a century, meanwhile, the environmental and socio-economic world in which they operate has undergone a dramatic transformation. Today’s producers are largely dependent on expensive external inputs, such as herbicides, fertilizers, and diesel, leaving them financially vulnerable and at the whims of systems outside of their control.  

An electric tractor is one of many new innovative technologies that aims to give farmers a cleaner, more affordable alternative to diesel, making it a strategic choice for conservation practices in agriculture. Monarch Tractor, a U.S.-based Agtech manufacturer, has taken the electric tractor and made it smart and autonomous, giving farmers valuable advantages in operations, reporting, and farm management that enable profitable practices in dairies and conservation agriculture in specialty crops. Monarch’s flagship product, the MK-V (pronounced Mark-Five) is the first 100% electric, driver-optional, and smart tractor on the market.   


Historically, tractor technology has largely evolved to benefit industrial-scaled row crops — corn, wheat, and soy — while fruit and vegetable farmers have not been able to enjoy the same advantages. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that row crops are largely used for livestock feed or as ingredients for heavily processed foods with little nutritional value, where fruit and vegetable farmers grow the nutrient-dense foods that people need for whole-body health. Electric tractors are helping change that equation. 

Electric tractors tend to be smaller with sub-100 horsepower (HP) engines, making their benefits more suitable and available to specialty farms. Additionally, Monarch is the first (and currently only) electric tractor manufacturer to successfully give specialty farmers a version of autosteer, a semi-autonomous feature that’s been saving industrial farms significant time and money for years. Monarch’s version is called Row Follow and is suitable for the narrower rows and trellises common with specialty farms.  


The NRCS EQIP Program  

The NRCS recognizes the advantages of conservation agriculture. According to the NRCS, the EQIP Program provides technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers and forest landowners to address an array of natural resource concerns, such as:  

  • Improving water and air quality 
  • Conserving ground and surface water
  • Increasing soil health 
  • Reducing soil erosion and sedimentation 
  • Improving or creating wildlife habitat 
  • Mitigating against drought and increasing weather volatility 

At its core, the NRCS EQIP program is an agriculture conservation initiative that assists farmers in integrating sustainable farming methods into their working lands through subsidies and various opportunities. One of these opportunities is the purchase of electric agricultural equipment, including electric tractors, under code 372. When a farmer replaces a diesel tractor with an electric tractor, the NRCS EQIP program may subsidize more than 50% of the cost of the electric tractor. The NRCS recognizes the importance of electric tractors in agricultural conservation efforts due to their zero tailpipe emissions.  

The significance of the EQIP NRCS incentive cannot be overemphasized. Despite the many benefits of an electric tractor, the initial purchase of this advanced machinery can be a financial hurdle for many farmers and ranchers. In these cases, a well-timed financial incentive like EQIP becomes a critical inflection point when deciding to invest in new technologies. For producers, sophisticated machinery can mean the difference between long-term affordability, efficiency, productivity, and profitability versus a future of expensive operating costs, high maintenance, compliance reporting, and diminishing returns.  For communities and consumers, it can be the difference between cleaner air and water and more nutritious food versus the negative health fallout and costs associated with high emissions, depleted soils, toxic chemicals, and weakened ecosystems.   

With EQIP, a farmer will be reimbursed after the tractor they are replacing is scrapped and verified as retired. This means a farmer must budget paying the EV tractor’s full cost upfront and being reimbursed by the USDA at a later date. The purchase of the EV tractor must be initiated through the EQIP program and not requested after the transaction has commenced. A state must opt in to participate in the EQIP program and qualifying details vary from state to state. NRCS published an interactive “Conservation by State” map where you can find more details.  

Recognizing the magnitude the investment in a new tractor represents for farmers, Monarch developed its MK-V to be an appreciating asset. Engineered with software-enabled hardware, the tractor is updated with new features and developments which are pushed to the tractor with over-the-air updates, much like your smartphone. Farmers with an MK-V today are positioned for aggregated labor and environmental savings down the road as Monarch rolls out expanded capabilities.  


The Electric Tractor in Conservation Agriculture 

Air quality. Soil protection. Water conservation.  Which of these factors is related to sustainable farming and are concerns identified by the EQIP program? The correct answer is all three. 

Air Quality in Agriculture 

One of the most direct advantages of adopting electric tractors in agriculture is the  elimination of exhaust emissions. Diesel exhaust contains fine particulate matter, which contributes to increased ground-level ozone pollution. This type of pollution can be detrimental to the health and growth of crops, trees, and other vegetation on the farm. Also, diesel emissions contribute to the formation of acid rain, which adversely affects soil quality and the health of lakes and streams in the surrounding areas. Unlike conventional diesel-powered tractors, electric tractors do not release any particulates during operation. Replacing one compact diesel tractor with an equivalent electric tractor is like removing the CO2e emissions of approximately 14 passenger cars every year.  

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), backing up overwhelming consensus from the global scientific community, also points out that emissions of pollutants into the air can also impact changes to the climate. Black carbon, a particulate pollutant from combustion, contributes to the warming of the Earth. This in turn, intensifies the occurrence of more volatile and unpredictable weather. Replacing a diesel tractor with an electric tractor is part of the collective emission reduction efforts that, over time, can help mitigate volatile weather patterns attributed to a warming climate.   

Water Conservation in Agriculture 

Water conservation in agriculture is about using water wisely and putting the intimate relationship between water, soil, and the environment to work for a farm’s advantage. While there are a few ways a farmer can use water more efficiently, such as timed irrigation and using precision agriculture to target water usage based on slope, soil type, solar radiation, and weather, one of the most successful strategies is right under our feet. It’s soil.   

Research indicates that organic matter in soil plays a crucial role in its ability to absorb and retain water. For every 1% increase in organic matter, the soil can absorb approximately one inch of rainfall per hour, an especially valuable trait during years with excessive rainfall.   

The enhanced water absorption capacity associated with higher organic matter levels helps prevent precious topsoil being eroded by runoff, which then carries dirt and any chemicals added to the soil, e.g., fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides, from entering the water system. Farm Progress reports the average rate of soil loss is 5.8 tons per acre per year, yet most farms believe their erosion loss is a fraction of that amount. Topsoil loss translates to loss of nutrients and yield, which is loss of income. Increased organic matter also contributes to the formation of new topsoil over time, further improving soil health and fertility.   

It's through soil conservation that an electric tractor can play a crucial role in a farm’s water conservation efforts.  

Soil Protection in Agriculture 

Crops require nutrients and water for healthy growth and competing for these resources with weeds can stress plants and impact yield.  It’s here that farmers are faced with a dilemma. Either control weeds chemically with herbicides or protect and improve soil health with more mowing.  

What gets sprayed on the soil enters the surrounding ecosystem. Glyphosate, a popular herbicide, negatively impacts pollinator health and is a proven contributor to pollinator population crashes.  Mowing, on the other hand, increases diesel fuel consumption, emissions, and labor costs due to the increased passes required to keep weeds in check. While an electric tractor can help with emissions, it must be compatible with a farmer’s current ecosystem of implements to do so.   

 Agriculture conservation practices like cover cropping, conservation tillage or no-till, crop rotation, and use of organic amendments help build and maintain soil health by increasing soil organic matter, improving soil structure, promoting microbial activity, and reducing erosion. Collectively, these enhance soil fertility, productivity, and soil ecosystem resilience over the long term. When these strategies are combined with an electric tractor capable of saving a farm money and efficiencies across many areas, such as the MK-V is doing, it is a winning combination for a farm.  

Autonomous operations in a tractor can also be a tipping point for transitioning to sustainable agriculture to aid soil conservation by reducing the burden of labor shortages and expenses. Deploying a tractor for an autonomous operation like mowing is highly advanced technology. To ensure safety and precision, Monarch is expanding the MK-V’s advanced autonomous capabilities to new crop types, farmlands, and operational parameters in stages. Because the tractor is driver optional, farmers are using it just as they would a conventional tractor while reaping the advantages associated with a 100% electric and smart, technologically advanced tractor.  Many farms are finding success in this strategy and their experiences with the MK-V.   


A Collective Effort 

Empowering a farmer to practice conservation agriculture to the best of their abilities helps us all. Through the EQIP program, farmers can acquire an electric tractor at a cost closer to that of a diesel tractor.  When that tractor is an MK-V, agriculture and conservation for better soil, water, air, and environment become a smoother, more profitable combination.  


Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019)  “Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture” Published online at Retrieved from:  

 “The Effects of Climate Change” National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Retrieved from: 

 Lawton, Kurt. (2017, March 13) “Economics of Soil Loss.” Farm Progress. Retrieved from: 

Chrobak, Ula. (2022, March 8) “The Plight of the Pollinators.” UC Davis Magazine. Retrieved from: 


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