Breaking down the Farm Bill: Conservation

Using our farm-to-fork perspective to educate and influence policymakers in Washington

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As a farmer-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes, Inc. is keeping a close eye on Washington as Farm Bill discussions heat up. We’ve already begun educating new members of Congress on the importance of farm programs. Over the next few months, we’re bringing you a summary of some of the key titles including, commodities and insurance, conservation and nutrition, which have a significant impact on our business and the viability of the next Farm Bill. We will also keep you informed of how Land O’Lakes, Inc. is working to influence these discussions and most importantly, what you can do to advocate.

Part one of the series detailed the history of the Farm Bill and summarized the Commodity title (Title 1) and the Crop Insurance title (Title 11). Next up, we’ll focus on the Conservation title (Title 2).

Conservation today

When the original Farm Bill was passed in 1933, conservation was a key component. The original bill created incentives allowing farmers to reduce their working acreage to maintain and enhance the quality of our natural resources. While the original Farm Bill included these incentives, many of the current agricultural conservation programs were not enacted until 1985.

Since then, Congress has enacted more than twenty distinct conservation programs that provide both farm planning and financial assistance to help farmers install conservation practices on their operations. Today, Farm Bill conservation programs fulfill a vital role helping producers conserve natural resources while also providing the support needed to help farmers invest in innovative solutions that can drive productivity and profitability.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) are responsible for implementing the programs farmers and ranchers can voluntarily participate in—both for their working agricultural land and environmentally sensitive land. Included below is a summary of the most utilized programs by our member-owners.

Working lands programs provide producers with voluntary financial incentives to adopt resource-conserving practices on land currently in production. Fifty percent of Title II’s funding is used for these programs.

  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to help plan and implement new conservation practices that address natural resource concerns and improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on farm. Farmers are reimbursed for the estimated share of their cost for planning and installing conservation, generally between 50 and 75 percent of the cost of the practice.

  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provides financial and technical assistance to producers to both maintain and adopt additional conservation across their entire farming operation. Farmers must apply for the program and agree to meet a “stewardship threshold” for natural resources. If they meet the threshold and are competitively selected, they enroll their farm into a five-year contract through which they receive financial support to maintain their existing conservation activities as well as additional financial assistance to try and adopt new conservation practices. Farmers receive an annual payment for these efforts based on performance.

Land retirement programs allow farmers to voluntarily enroll sensitive lands to protect them for the long term.

  • The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) provides funding for landowners to voluntarily sell 30-year and permanent conservation easements on their agricultural lands. This program funds two types of conservation easements: Agricultural Land and Wetland Reserve Easements. Agricultural Land Easements help farmers and ranchers keep their working land in agriculture intact and in open space to prevent fragmentation and conversion of valuable working farms. Wetland Reserve Easements help farmers with restoring, protecting and enhancing wetlands.

  • The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides annual rental payments to farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production. The long-term goal of the program is to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and improve wildlife habitat. Producers enroll their land on a contract basis, typically 10-15 years in length.

Partnership programs, administered by NRCS, encourage producers, private and public entities to work together to increase the sustainable use of soil, water and other natural resources.

  • The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) encourages partnerships at the national, state and local level to increase the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and related natural resources on regional or watershed scales. RCPP projects encourage locally led and innovative conservation projects to help farmers maintain and enhance their natural resources.

  • Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) are competitive grants that drive public and private sector innovation in resource conservation using EQIP funds. Through the CIG program, public and private grantees must match the federal investment. Grantees develop the tools, technologies and strategies necessary to support next-generation conservation efforts on specific projects or working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges.

Land O’Lakes conservation efforts

Land O’Lakes member-owners have a strong track record of successful conservation efforts across the country. In the Big Pine watershed, Land O’Lakes, Inc., WinField United, Ceres Solutions, Field to Market, The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) and The Nature Conservancy worked together on a RCPP project to develop a management plan focused on increasing water quality over the next three years. One of the primary goals is to reduce the amount of phosphorus and sediment that flow into the watershed by more than fifty percent.

Andy Snider, owner of Snider Farms and Land O’Lakes, Inc. member-owner, testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on May 6 about the value he sees in participating in conservation programs like EQIP and CSP.

“Because legacy and lifestyle matter to all farm families, our farm has enrolled in several state and federal conservation programs that we hope will sustain the land and water for my children and future grandchildren,” Andy said. His full testimony is available here.

Most recently, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN was named as a partner in a Conservation Innovation Grant project to provide outreach and technical assistance for improved water quality in the Chesapeake Bay region in a pay-for-success model. The CIG will be administered by Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Looking ahead to 2018

In the 2018 Farm Bill, conservation—analysts say—will be a significant focus. Most notably, current proposals for the 2018 Conservation Title include additional opportunities to make conservation programs more effective and easier to use. Such opportunities create the potential for broader impacts on both farmers and the environment.

Land O’Lakes, Inc., through Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, is working on a conservation policy framework for the 2018 Farm Bill to help farmers improve environmental outcomes without sacrificing productivity or profitability. We believe farmers can be efficient, profitable and support the environmental health of their acres all at the same time. As our policy efforts develop, we will keep our members informed and engaged.

Get involved

Today, the Land O’Lakes, Inc. Government Relations team is working to educate policymakers on our stance on these important issues, but you can get involved, too. Call, email or meet with your members of Congress to let them know why the Farm Bill matters to you.

Part three of our Farm Bill series will focus on nutrition. Interested in other topics related to the Farm Bill? Email to let us know and to learn more.