Since 2002 there has been a trend toward emphasizing financial assistance for conservation on working lands: land that is in crop production or grazing/livestock production. This is a departure from the period between 1985 and 2002 when conservation policy emphasized land retirement: paying farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from crop production for a specific time period. As of February 2008, almost 37 million acres – or 10 percent of U.S. cropland were retired from crop production.
The shift to working-lands conservation recognizes the multiple benefits of agriculture – that agriculture can provide food and fiber, as well as help provide healthy soils, clean water, habitat for native wildlife, renewable energy, and other conservation benefits.
In addition to the Conservation Stewardship Program, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has worked to advance other federal working-lands conservation programs, including:
- the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) which provides incentives payments and cost-shares to implement conservation practices. NSAC helped to establish the program in the 1996 Farm Bill and in the 2008 Farm Bill successfully won changes to the program that promote organic conversion and pasture-based systems. NSAC will continue to fight against changes made to EQIP in 2002 that allow large-scale confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to receive high levels of funding to help pay for capital infrastructure costs associated with waste storage and handling facilities. Clicking on the link above will take you to more information about the new EQIP in the 2008 Farm Bill;
- the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) provides technical assistance and up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat;
- the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) reserves 6 percent of the total funds and total acres from the CSP, EQIP, and WHIP programs for special local and regional conservation projects that involve groups of farmers and ranchers in partnership with USDA, farm conservation, and other non-governmental organizations. Clicking on the link will take you to more information about CCPI in the 2008 Farm Bill;
- The Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) program provides cost share assistance to agricultural producers to voluntarily address issues such as water quality, water management, and soil erosion by incorporating conservation into their farming operations.