Agricultural Conservation


Privately-owned crop, pasture, and rangeland account for nearly half of land in the US. Given the enormity of agriculture’s footprint on our land – and the fact that these working lands intersect with shared natural resources like rivers and lakes – it makes sense that farmers and ranchers have a huge role to play in sustaining our nation’s natural resources. From growing a cover crop to planting native plants along a field for pollinators to restoring wetlands, conservation on farmland is a win-win for farmers and for the rest of us.

NSAC works to advance federal policies and programs that promote conservation measures, the sustainable production of renewable energy, and sustainable and organic farming systems as primary means to reduce agricultural pollution, promote biodiversity, rebuild and enhance the soil, and address climate change.

Farm policies that reward overproduction of vast monocultures without requiring basic resource conservation practices negatively impact our soil, streams, lakes, and air. Federal farm policy should incentivize and reward producers that protect and rebuild soil, provide clean water and habitat for native wildlife, sequester carbon, and supply other conservation and environmental benefits. Farm, crop, enterprise, and biological diversification in particular should be promoted through our federal conservation policies and programs.

NSAC has worked with farmers and ranchers, Congress, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create, improve, and promote programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (and the former Wetlands Reserve Program), Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Continuous Conservation Reserve Program, and Rural Energy for America Program, among others.

Every several years, as Congress prepares to reauthorize the federal farm bill, we inform policy decisions regarding conservation and renewable energy policy and funding; we work each year to protect that conservation funding in the annual appropriations process; and we routinely meet with and deliver recommendations to USDA to guide program implementation.

For the latest news on agricultural conservation, visit our blog!

Learn More About NSAC’s work on agricultural conservation issues!

  • Climate and Energy: Sustainable agriculture and energy systems offer the best opportunity to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • Farm Program Conservation Requirements: In exchange for farm subsidies, producers must meet minimum soil, wetland, and grassland conservation measures.
  • Soil, Water, and Biodiversity: Conservation programs help farmers, ranchers, and foresters enhance soil health, mitigate water pollution, and create habitat for a diversity of wildlife species.

Climate and Energy

We believe that sustainable agricultural and energy systems offer the best opportunity to address climate change and ensure long-term energy and food security. Adoption of these systems can significantly decrease net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and help producers prepare for extreme weather events.

NSAC calls upon federal policy-makers to prioritize support for federal farm bill policies and programs that enable farmers and ranchers to produce food, fiber, and energy sustainably.

In support of these positions, NSAC has worked with Congress and USDA to create and improve the Rural Energy for America Program and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. Moreover, we continue to work with USDA to expand opportunities for producers to limit GHG emissions, sequester carbon, and build resiliency through conservation programs.

Looking for specific information on federal programs to address climate change, energy conservation and renewable energy development? Check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Policy.

Recent NSAC actions on Climate and Energy

Resources

Back to Top

Farm Program Conservation Requirements

Over the years, NSAC has helped create and improve several federal requirements to tie commodity and crop insurance subsidies to soil, wetland, and grassland conservation. Without these requirements, we would see a dramatic increase in soil erosion and wetland and grassland conversions.

The primary provision is a set of conservation requirements collectively known as “conservation compliance.” Conservation compliance requires that, as a condition of eligibility for commodity, crop insurance and other subsidies, farm loans, and conservation payments, producers cannot drain or fill wetlands or expand the scope of existing drainage on farmed wetlands, and they must also implement a soil conservation plan if they farm highly erodible land.

A second provision is a grassland conservation measure known as “Sodsaver,” which reduces the size of the federal subsidy for crop insurance premiums on cropland that is converted from native prairie into agricultural production.

During the 2008 Farm Bill debate, NSAC worked to create the Sodsaver provision; however, in the end, Congress made the program voluntary, subject to approval by state governors. We revisited the provision during the 2014 Farm Bill and successfully established a mandatory Sodsaver requirement for Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. If farmers choose to plow up native sod to farm crops in those states, federal premium subsidies for crop insurance will be reduced by 50 percentage points on that land.

While Sodsaver is a relatively newer federal requirement, conservation compliance has been around since 1985. It was created under the notion that producers should practice at least basic conservation in return for government subsidies. However, between 1996 and 2014, it was detached from the federal crop insurance program, meaning that no conservation was required in exchange for crop insurance subsidies. NSAC successfully advocated for some improvements to the conservation compliance provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill, including graduated penalties for compliance violations. During the 2014 Farm Bill debate we joined forces with other farm and conservation organizations to successfully re-link conservation compliance to federal crop insurance subsidies.

Recent NSAC actions on Farm Program Conservation Requirements

Back to Top

Soil, Water, and Biodiversity

NSAC works to advance programs, policies, and regulations that limit the negative environmental impacts of some agricultural operations while at the same time creating opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and foresters to voluntarily improve water and soil quality, limit soil loss, and enhance wildlife habitat and biodiversity.

With the support of innovative farm bill conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), farmers and ranchers are rewarded for adopting comprehensive conservation systems. Other programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), provide a way for the public to share in the cost of getting basic conservation practices on the land. The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) protects farmland and natural resources through long-term easements; the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) helps maintain long-term conservation cover like grass, trees, and buffers on highly erodible land; and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) supports targeted conservation projects led by non-profit partners. These programs offer tools and resources to help producers protect soil, water, and biodiversity.

Since 1988, NSAC has helped create or improve these conservation programs during the five-year revolving farm bill cycle and through administrative reform. We also work to strengthen regulations that govern the establishment and operation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs); and we oppose the use of farm bill conservation funding and other federal funding to support the proliferation and expansion of CAFOs at public expense. For more information on our work to advance sustainable livestock production, visit our animal agriculture page.

Looking for specific information on federal programs to enhance soil, water, and biodiversity? Check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Policy.

Recent NSAC actions on Soil, Water, and Biodiversity

Back to Top