June 11, 2020
Farmers understand that the rain that falls on their land does not always stick around. For some, it flows through tributaries towards the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico. For others, it makes passes through the soil, into drainage tiles, into creeks, and into other iconic bodies of water like the Great Lakes or the Chesapeake Bay.
In the waterways between the field and the larger body of water, scientists are reporting increasing levels of hypoxia, a condition in which oxygen levels are depleted to such a degree that fish and other wildlife are stressed or killed. A primary source of the hypoxia is high levels of nutrient loading – often from excessive fertilizer or manure – that causes the growth of algae in the water. The chemical processes that are part of the proliferation, death, and eventual decomposition of the algae consume the oxygen in the water.
If it is severe enough, hypoxia in tributaries can lead to major “dead zones” at the terminus of a river or estuarine systems that are vital to supporting local wildlife, regional economies, and trade. There are news stories every year that track the development and impacts of dead zones, most recently in Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico.
In order to address the problem of hypoxia and widespread dead zones, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Farm Service Agency (FSA) established in 2017 the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers program, better known as CLEAR. This program provides direct financial support to farmers that want to implement conservation practices specifically intended to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water flowing through their farms. This includes interventions like denitrifying bioreactors and saturated buffers.
What is CLEAR30?
This year, FSA is rolling out a new pilot program called CLEAR30 in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay watersheds which is focused on building on the successes of CLEAR and other important water quality improvement programs within the Conservation Reserve Program. CLEAR30 will provide eligible farmers and landowners with a 30-year contract to continue conservation practices that keep our waterways clean and healthy.
To be eligible, producers must have an expiring CLEAR contract, continuous CRP Cropland water-quality contract, or, according to FSA, “marginal pasturelands CRP contracts devoted to riparian buffers, wildlife habitat buffers or wetland buffers.”
CLEAR30 is available in the following states:
Enrollment opens on July 6 and closes on August 21. The payment will be equal to current Continuous Conservation Reserve Program payments, plus an adjustment for inflation (27.5 percent), given the length of these new contracts.
For additional information, please take a look at USDA’s press release on CLEAR30 or reach out to your local FSA office.