FAQ: What happened to the soil conservation programs in the new 2014 Farm Bill? How are they changed?
Answer: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in September that $328 million in conservation funding is being invested to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the nation. The USDA initiative will benefit wildlife and promote outdoor recreation and related sectors of the economy.
"Conservation easements help farmers and ranchers protect valuable agricultural lands from development, restore lands that are best suited for grazing, and return wetlands to their natural conditions," Vilsack says. "These easements are making a dramatic and positive impact for our food supply, rural communities and species habitat."
Funding is provided through ACEP in 2014 Farm Bill
The funding is provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, or ACEP, which was created in the 2014 Farm Bill to protect critical wetlands and encourage producers to keep lands in farming and ranching. Approximately 380 projects nationwide were selected by USDA to protect and restore 32,000 acres of prime farmland, 45,000 acres of grasslands and 52,000 acres of wetlands. A summary of ACEP funding provided to each state can be found online at the NRCS website.
In addition to protecting cropland and critical habitats, conservation strengthens outdoor recreation and helps boost the economy. According to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, annual U.S. conservation spending totals $38.8 billion, but it produces $93.2 billion of economic output throughout the economy, or 2.4 times more than what is put in. This output takes the form of more than 660,500 jobs, $41.6 billion in income and a $59.7 billion contribution to national Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.
Conservation easements deliver long-term benefits
Through ACEP, private or tribal landowners and eligible conservation partners working with landowners can request assistance from USDA to protect and enhance agricultural land through an agricultural or wetland easement, says Vilsack. These easements deliver many long-term benefits. For example, this year's projects will:
• Improve water quality and wetland storage capacity in the California Bay Delta region;
• Reduce flooding along the Mississippi and Red rivers;
• Provide and protect habitat for threatened, endangered and at-risk species including sage grouse, bog turtles, Florida panthers, Louisiana black bear, and whooping cranes to recover populations and reduce regulatory burdens; and
• Protect prime agricultural land under high risk of development in urban areas to help secure the nation's food supply and jobs in the agricultural sector.
ACEP merges three former NRCS easement programs
ACEP consolidates three former Natural Resources Conservation Service easement programs (Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program) into two components. One component protects farmlands and grasslands, and the other protects and restores ag wetlands.
"The 2014 Farm Bill streamlined USDA's major easement programs into one, putting the important benefits of protecting farmlands, grasslands and wetlands all under one roof to make it as easy as possible for landowners to participate," Vilsack says.
To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center.
President Obama and his administration have supported historic investments in conserving clean air, land and water through programs like ACEP, USDA's innovative new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and many others.
ACEP also part of the new Climate Action Plan
ACEP is also one of the many steps USDA is taking to create modern solutions to the challenge of climate change as part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan. The Administration's plan responsibly cuts carbon pollution, slows the long-term effects of climate change, helps farmers and others deal with the present-day impact of drought and other severe weather, increases the availability of American grown renewable fuels. More information about all efforts is available at www.usda.gov/climatesolutions. Also, for more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.