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 winter cover crop to planting native plants along a field for honeybees to restoring wetlands, conservation on farmland is a win-win for farmers and for the rest of us.
Farm policies that reward overproduction of vast monocultures like corn and soy without requiring basic resource conservation practices have negatively impacted our soil, streams, lakes, and air. Federal farm policy should instead incentivize and reward producers that help protect and rebuild soil, provide clean water and habitat for native wildlife, sequester carbon, and supply other conservation and environmental benefits.
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 protects farmland and natural resources through long-term easements. These conservation programs offer tools and resources to help protect our land and water,.
It should be no surprise, then, that the farm bill includes nearly $60 billion for conservation over 10 years – the third largest pot of farm bill funding outside of nutrition programs. For more details on conservation highlights (and lowlights) from the 2018 Farm Bill, check out our farm bill blog series.
This section of our Grassroots Guide provides an overview of the key federal conservation programs available to farmers, ranchers, landowners, and community-based organizations and institutions interested in natural resource conservation on working and retired agricultural lands.