FAQ: USDA programs are sometimes criticized as not doing enough to protect our natural resources. How effective are USDA conservation programs?
Answer: U.S Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently joined Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited, to highlight the value of public-private conservation efforts and the record conservation results achieved by producers, landowners and USDA since 2009.
Across the nation, USDA works directly with farmers and ranchers to carry out conservation practices aimed at strengthening our nation's soil and water resources.
USDA has partnered with more than 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners on these conservation projects since 2009 –- a record number. By protecting marginal cropland, preserving habitat and implementing environmentally-friendly production methods, these efforts preserve the ability of America's farmers and ranchers to continue producing an abundant food supply in the years to come.
Conservation also strengthens outdoor recreation, which adds more than $640 billion every year to the U.S. economy. The farm bill represents the nation's largest investment supporting the voluntary and successful conservation, restoration and management of America's working lands. The new 2014 Farm Bill will:
- Continue targeted conservation efforts through a streamlined Regional Conservation Partnership Program. This new program will continue efforts under existing programs like the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, Healthy Forest Restoration Program, and Great Lakes Initiative to ensure soil quality, water quality, erosion control, forest restoration and wildlife habitat.
- Maintain key working lands programs including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program.
- Continue participation in the Conservation Reserve Program under which USDA has held a general signup each year since 2009.
- Help ensure that natural resource conservation continues on tens of millions of acres, and further expand conservation, by linking crop insurance compliance to conservation program participation.
The farm bill strengthens efforts USDA has undertaken across a range of innovative new landscape-scale initiatives aimed at restoring land and water. For example:
- More than 844,000 acres were enrolled since 2010 under the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative to help treat land along the Mississippi River.
- More than 275,000 acres were enrolled since 2011 under the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, helping helps farmers and ranchers in the central United States conserve water.
- More than 246,000 acres were enrolled since 2010 under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, working with producers to protect water quality and combat invasive species. America's Great Lakes hold 21% of the world's surface fresh water.
- The USDA Everglades Initiative has enrolled nearly 215,000 acres since 2010, improving water quality and helping to restore fish and wildlife habitat in this unique coastal region.
In addition to America's working lands, our forest lands are providing new opportunities in conservation that benefit rural communities. USDA has undertaken new measures designed to modernize forest restoration and achieve the maximum benefit for landowners and the environment.
- USDA has treated or harvested more than 500,000 acres for timber as part of 23 new "Collaborative Forest Restoration Projects." These efforts reduce fire risk and create jobs in rural America.
- USDA has sold more than 10.3 million board feet of timber since 2009 from National Forest lands and to ensure modern forest management, USDA released and implemented a new planning rule to balance forest care and restoration with commonsense job creation.
To help spur innovation in conservation, USDA has invested in new research monitoring and coordination efforts that help researchers and producers enhance conservation benefits on the land.
- More than 1,000 Conservation Innovation Grants since 2009 have helped to fund technical assistance, research and capacity building for innovative new conservation efforts and sustainable growing practices. For example, a CIG partnership with Michigan State University has helped small dairy farmers to evaluate the performance of a new technology to treat wastewater.
- USDA undertook the Rapid Carbon Assessment, released this year to support conservation planners; and released the COMET-FARM™ tool, which enables farmers and ranchers to calculate how much carbon their soil is storing.
- And to help American agriculture mitigate and adapt to climate change, USDA will soon announce seven regional "Climate Hubs" around the nation. The hubs will deliver region-specific information to help farmers and ranchers adapt to climate threats specific to their area.
- We have boosted efforts to strengthen ecosystem markets. USDA has supported the creation of water quality trading markets that hold potential to boost income for producers while providing environmental benefits at a lower cost than more traditional approaches. And through the Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative, we are helping farmers and ranchers proactively protect species with declining populations.
Refer to the charts which provide a state-by-state look at the impact of some leading USDA conservation programs within the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service. You can find these charts at State-by-State Efforts Under Selected NRCS and FSA Conservation Programs: FY2009-201.