On Farm Conservation Policies and Programs - FIC

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On Farm Conservation Policies and Programs

Learn about federal, tribal, state and local approaches to support on-farm conservation—practice adoption, habitat restoration, and land maintenance. The information on this page provides an overview of key conservation programs and policies. While most conservation policy is enacted at the federal or state level, conservation itself is implemented locally. In addition, you will find links to fact sheets, program webpages, statutes and sample documents.
Federal Policies and Programs
  • Federal Policies and Programs
  • State Policies and Programs
Sections
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1. Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
2. Conservation Innovation Grants
3. Conservation Reserve Program
4. Conservation Stewardship Program
5. Environmental Quality Incentives Program 
6. Regional Conservation Partnership Program   
7. Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act
8. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grants
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Federal Policies and Programs

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS) implements the key federal policies and programs that protect the nation’s farm and ranch land and assist private landowners with natural resource concerns. Several federal programs help connect farmers and ranchers with land. 

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), administered by USDA NRCS, is a voluntary conservation program that protects agricultural land from conversion to non-farm uses and conserves and restores wetlands. ACEP has two components: Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE). ACEP provides technical and financial assistance to landowners to conserve farm and ranch lands, grasslands, and wetlands. 

Under the Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE) component, USDA NRCS partners with eligible private landowners and American Indian tribes to restore, enhance, and protect wetlands through the purchase of a wetland reserve easement. Wetland Reserve Easements provide habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals; reduce flooding; recharge groundwater; protect biological diversity; provide resilience to climate change and provide opportunities for educational, scientific and limited recreational activities. 

Conservation Innovation Grants 

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) support the development of new tools, approaches, practices, and technologies to further natural resource conservation on private lands. The program works to address water quality, air quality, soil health and wildlife habitat challenges, all while improving agricultural operations.  

Conservation Reserve Program

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland and other environmentally sensitive land to vegetative cover including native grasses, trees, filter strips, habitat buffers or riparian buffers. The program provides assistance to farmers and ranchers in complying with Federal, State, and tribal environmental laws, and encourages environmental enhancement. A variation of the CRP, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) helps farmers protect environmentally sensitive land, decrease erosion, restore wildlife habitat and safeguard ground and surface water. Another part of the CRP program is the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (Grassland CRP) which helps landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland, and pastureland while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. These programs are administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service assists with technical assistance through conservation planning. 

Conservation Stewardship Program 

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) offers technical and financial assistance to help agricultural and forest producers take their conservation efforts to the next level. The program is designed to compensate agricultural and forest producers who agree to increase their level of conservation by adopting additional conservation activities and maintaining their baseline level of conservation. CSP is for producers who are passionate about conservation and environmental stewardship. CSP is administered by the USDA NRCS. 

Environmental Quality Incentives Program 

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance through contracts to help plan and implement structural and management practices on eligible agricultural land. Contracts address natural resource concerns and opportunities to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related environmental resources. EQIP can help producers meet environmental regulations. EQIP is administered by the USDA NRCS.  

Regional Conservation Partnership Program   

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) promotes coordination of NRCS conservation activities with partners that offer value-added contributions to expand our collective ability to address on-farm, watershed, and regional natural resource concerns. Through RCPP, NRCS seeks to co-invest with partners to implement projects that demonstrate innovative solutions to conservation challenges and provide measurable improvements and outcomes tied to the resource concerns they seek to address. RCPP is administered by the USDA NRCS.   

Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act

The Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (RCA) of 1977, as amended, provides the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) broad strategic assessment and planning authority for the conservation, protection, and enhancement of soil, water, and related natural resources. Through RCA, the USDA developed a national soil and water conservation program that supports specific soil and water conservation activities. 

NRCS is also mandated by the RCA, and the earlier Rural Development Act of 1972 (RDA), to assess the status, condition, and trends of soil, water, and related resources at 5-year intervals. To help accomplish this assessment required by RCA, and to expand the agency’s existing soil survey program, the National Resources Inventory (NRI) program was developed. The NRI program collects and produces scientifically credible information on the status, condition, and trends of land, soil, water, and related natural resources on the nation’s non-federal lands in support of efforts to protect, restore, and enhance the lands and waters of the United States. Data from the NRI provide the foundation for shaping major agri-environmental policy and land use decisions nationwide. 

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grants

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program offers competitive grants to fund research and education projects that advance sustainable agricultural practices in the United States. Eligible applicants include Farmers and ranchers, Researchers, Extension agents and other educators, and Graduate students. SARE also offers Professional Development grants and training opportunities for professionals including Cooperative Extension Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), the private sector, and nonprofits. The program operates in every state and island protectorate. Funded by the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, the program is run by four regions hosted by land grant institutions. To learn about SARE grant opportunities available to you, find your region at www.sare.org/about/sares-four-regions/ 

Sections
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1. On-Farm Conservation Programs
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State Policies and Programs

Many states offer assistance to agricultural producers and non-operating agricultural landowners to improve on-farm conservation. These programs are often administered by state departments of agriculture or state soil conservation commissions. They may also be administered locally through soil and water conservation districts. State-administered programs are frequently offered on a voluntary basis, with producers receiving no-cost technical assistance to create a conservation plan, financial assistance to implement practices, access to peer-to-peer research and demonstrations, and more. 

The State Conservation Program Dashboard (the dashboard) contains information about three types of common state-level programs. The dashboard’s tables highlight program features and activities to enable comparisons across states. A summary of findings, which can also be accessed on the dashboard, is available here: A Review of State Agricultural Conservation Programs. 

In addition to these programs directed toward supporting agricultural producers, some states have adopted state-level plans or have created task forces and commissions. The aim of these efforts is to build strategies to improve on-farm conservation to advance soil health, climate adaptation and mitigation, or other broad purposes.  

On-Farm Conservation Programs

On-farm conservation programs offer technical and financial assistance to landowners to plan and implement land management practices that aim to enhance soil health and deliver other environmental benefits. Technical assistance can include on-site visits, conservation planning, and assistance with implementing practices. Financial assistance often takes the form of cost-share or grants to landowners that pay for all or part of the expense incurred to implement practices, often on a reimbursable basis.  

On-farm conservation programs complement federal Farm Bill conservation efforts, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). For instance, state programs frequently refer to NRCS practice codes in planning for and implementing practices. 

Contact your state department of agriculture, state soil conservation commission, or local soil and water conservation district to learn about on-farm conservation programs available in your state. You can also visit the State Conservation Program Dashboard to see if a program in your state is listed. Your local NRCS office may also be aware of these programs available in your state. 

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