What the new farm bill means for conservation

More funding and incentives to implement conservation practices.
Larry Clemens and Jennifer Conner Nelms
Tuesday, 05 March 2019
By Larry Clemens and Jennifer Conner Nelms
On December 20, U.S. President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law. The Nature Conservancy, an advocacy group for land and water conservation, break down what this law means for conservation practices. The bill will support and fund policies that will help farmers, ranchers and forest owners become more sustainable and productive.

The Nature Conservancy's CEO Mark Tercek said in his statement after the bill’s passage out of the U.S. Senate, "… the new Farm Bill is a victory for the conservation and stewardship of the natural treasures that are America’s ranches, farms and forests. The health of these lands is critical to the success of private landowners, to our economy and to rural communities.”

What is the Farm Bill?
The Farm Bill is the legislation for conserving private lands in the United States. About half the land in the contiguous United States—nearly 900 million acres—is cropland, rangeland, forestland or pastureland that is eligible for programs funded by the Farm Bill.

The bill includes voluntary, incentive-based programs that help farmers and other landowners conserve their lands and their ways of life. These include initiatives to support science-driven, sustainable management of our farms, ranchlands, forests and grasslands.

The Farm Bill must be reauthorized every five years. Earlier this year, both the House and the Senate passed their own Farm Bill proposals. Negotiators worked for months but were unable to reach an agreement between these two bills, letting the previous Farm Bill expire on September 30, 2018.

Priority conservation programs in the recently passed Farm Bill, which help support voluntary efforts by landowners to conserve a portion of their lands, received major boosts along with policy updates to increase their success. Specifically, it:

Fully funds the Farm Bill’s conservation title over 10 years at nearly $6 billion a year. Throughout the United States, TNC partners with farmers and ranchers on these programs that provide for sustainable agriculture and safeguard biodiversity at the same time, such as restoring wetlands and planting cover crops to increase soil health.

Increases funding for conservation easements to $450 million a year from $250 million year—meaning an additional $2 billion over the next 10 years—to farmers and ranchers to permanently set aside portions of their lands for the conservation of grasslands, wetlands, and forests. This program also helps us protect watersheds by paying farmers who restore wetlands on their property. These wetlands act as natural filters, giving downstream water users a cleaner source of freshwater.

Triples direct funding for public-private partnership through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to $300 million a year from $100 million a year. RCPP supports bringing new partners and their funding to the conservation table to find local, innovative solutions to natural resource challenges including issues with water quality, flood prevention, resilience during drought, soil conservation and more.

Enhances program flexibility to help farmers access and use conservation programs more effectively and efficiently. Specialists from the private sector can now better help with conservation planning, conservation projects of significant value can now occur on large lands, and the application and enrollment processes for many conservation programs have been simplified.

Includes a new focus on soil health. Conservation program descriptions now include soil health and carbon sequestration as targeted outcomes. Conservation innovation programs are funded at $25 million per year, including a new trial that will provide incentives to producers to implement conservation practices that improve soil health and increase soil carbon levels. It will also establish protocols for measuring and testing soil carbon levels to evaluate gains in soil health.

For more on what the Farm Bill means for other conservation areas, like forestry, read more on The Nature Conservancy's page




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