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Conservation In The New Farm Bill

Conservation In The New Farm Bill
Congress cuts conservation spending by $4 billion and changes some of the rules for programs widely used in the Dakotas.

Spending on conservations program is predicted to surpass commodity program spending over the next 10 years, says Jack Davis, South Dakota State University Extension farm management specialist.

For the next five years, though, conservation spending was cut $4 billion dollars and 23 Conservation Title programs were reduced to 13.

The major conservation programs are Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and Conservation Stewardship Program.

Davis provides the following details about each of the programs:

A duck paddles across a quiet pond protected by a conservation program in the Farm Bill.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 continues CRP but reduces, in step-wise fashion, the acreage statuary cap from 32 million acres down to 24 million by 2018. Recently, this cap has not been restrictive as acres offered for re-enrollment or new CRP contracts has remained below the cap. According to the January 2014 FSA Monthly CRP Acreage Report, 16.6 million acres are currently enrolled in CRP nationwide. The national reduction in CRP acres is likely to keep falling as CRP rental rates fail to keep pace with returns that are realized from land being utilized for alternative uses. In South Dakota, expirations from CRP are equal to 69,976; 44,599; 56,564; 47,680; and 31,474 acres respectively in 2014-2018.

The 2014 Farm Bill also directs 2 million acres of CRP to be enrolled nationwide in a grassland reserve by 2018. This enrollment will be comparable to the acres that were enrolled in the now-repealed Grassland Reserve Program and will target land expiring from CRP.

In South Dakota, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is suspending new enrollments because of a lack of funding at the state level. The CREP is a state-sponsored CRP program designed to promote land conservation and wildlife habitat. According to the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, since the program began in 2009, 818 contracts have been initiated with 82,173 acres enrolled. Participants who enrolled acres in CREP are paid with CRP and State of South Dakota funds. Rental rates under CREP are typically higher than those under CRP. This new enrollment suspension does not affect acres that are currently enrolled.

EQIP now combines the objectives of the now-repealed Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Great Lakes Basin Program, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, and The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program. EQIP was developed to assist participants with implementing conservation practices that address natural resource concerns. Enrolling land in EQIP authorizes FSA to provide participants with technical and financial assistance.

EQIP continues with a reduction in overall funding and with some minor modifications. For example, 5% of EQIP funding is directed to wildlife habitat practices that substitute for funding previously provided by WHIP. In South Dakota, there are currently 94,219 acres enrolled in WHIP, and these contracts will continue. EQIP also directs 60% of funding to the promotion of environmental stewardship practices among livestock and poultry producers. To help address budget concerns, EQIP establishes a payment limitation of $450,000 per person or legal entity for 2014 - 2018. South Dakota producers currently have 324,256 acres enrolled in EQIP.

The new farm bill combined the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), the Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), and the Farm and Ranch Protection Program into ACEP. ACEP continues many of the objectives of these previous programs by providing funding for wetland easements (similar to WRP) and agricultural land easements (similar to GRP and FRPP). South Dakota producers have 23,762 acres enrolled in WRP and GRP programs. ACEP gives priority to CRP acres that are newly-expired, and unlike the programs it replaces, is permanently funded.

Like EQIP, this new program will continue some of the provisions that were previously contained in Great Lakes Basin Program, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, and The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program.

Other Programs Reauthorized
Conservation Innovation Grants and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) were both reauthorized in the new Farm Bill. These programs are targeted to encourage development of conservation plans for cropland and rangeland that is in production. Producers enter into contracts with a plan to enhance conservation practices on working lands. South Dakota producers currently have 984,796 acres enrolled in CSP contracts. The reauthorization of CSP calls for national enrollment of an additional 10,000,000 acres annually.

Source: SDSU

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