Every five years, the federal government reviews the food and farm landscape and renews the Farm Bill. Most farm bill conservation programs are authorized to receive mandatory funding. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the  conservation portion of the 2018 bill makes up 7% of the bill’s total projected mandatory spending over 10 years, which is $60 billion of the total $867 billion. While the 2018 farm bill does not create new conservation programs, it does direct some funding to new issues, initiatives, or subprograms. These include:

Grassland Conservation Initiative: creates a new grassland conservation contract under the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Soil Health and Income Protection Pilot program under the Conservative Reserve Program (CRP) created to remove less productive farm land from production in exchange for annual rental payments and to plant low-cost perennial cover crops.

The Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative creates a new water quality incentive that gives priority under continuous enrollment to land that would reduce sediment and nutrient loading, and harmful algal blooms.

CLEAR 30, a new pilot program that enrolls expiring CRP land into 30-year contracts.

High priority practices. Allows states the option, in consultation with the state technical committee, to identify no more than ten high-priority practices that will be eligible for up to 90% of the practice cost. Practices must address nutrients in ground and surface water, conservation of water, identified wildlife habitat, or watershed-specific resource concerns.

On-farm conservation innovation trials will use up to $25 million annually of Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funds to test new or innovative conservation approaches either directly with producers or with eligible entities.

Grassland Conservation Initiative will create a new grassland conservation contract under CSP.

The Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program will be created to study the extent of damage from feral swine, develop eradication and control measures and restoration methods, and provide cost-share funding to agricultural producers in established pilot areas.

Regulatory certainty initiative will provide technical assistance under the farm bill conservation programs to support regulatory certainty for producers and landowners, under select conditions.

That’s the new. Here are all the programs, organized by type:

_2019 Farm Bill Programs.png

This chart gives some idea of trends in funding:

Source: Source:  Agricultural Conservation in the 2018 Farm Bill /Congressional Research Service April 18, 2019. Using CBO baseline date for 2001-2019. Author: Megan Stubbs, specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy.

Source: Source: Agricultural Conservation in the 2018 Farm Bill/Congressional Research Service April 18, 2019. Using CBO baseline date for 2001-2019. Author: Megan Stubbs, specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy.

As is clear from the above chart, most of the conservation funding goes to Working Lands (improving conservation practices on working farms, ranches, and forests) and Land Retirement (mostly paying landowners to put land out of production for awhile). While funding for Land Retirement has been relatively flat for the past 10 years, Working Lands funding has more than doubled during the same period. That’s probably because there’s only so many landowners willing to retire land and a lot more farmers, ranchers, and logging companies willing to be better stewards of their land while still making a profit. Plus, a lot of environmental groups support Working Lands - for example, the Audubon Society:

“Working lands represent one of the best hopes for conservation. These parcels of forests, ranches, and farms add up to roughly a billion acres—or about half the land in the entire Lower 48 states. Audubon collaborates with landowners, land managers, government agencies, and private industry across the hemisphere to increase the quality of habitat on privately managed lands to benefit 20 flagship bird species. Audubon also helps landowners and land managers apply bird-friendly practices on their lands and develop market-based solutions to build economic incentives that have the potential to engage many more landowners.”  

Sounds good to me.

References:

Agricultural Conservation in the 2018 Farm Bill/Congressional Research Service April 18, 2019. Author: Megan Stubbs, Specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy.

What’s in the 2018 Farm Bill? The Good, The Bad and The Offal… Farm Aid. December 20, 2018 Agricultural Conservation in the 2018 Farm Bill/Congressional Research Service April 18, 2019. Author: Megan Stubbs, Specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy.