Farm Bill Conservation Programs
The Largest Source of Federal Funding for Land Trusts
Investing more than $4 billion a year in a suite of conservation programs, the Farm Bill now far exceeds other federal sources of conservation funding. Easement programs like the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and Grassland Reserve Program (now known as the Agricultural Land Easement Program, or ALE) are helping to conserve millions of acres of important landscapes across America.
With your help so far, we have succeeded in doubling funding for easement programs in the 2008 Farm Bill, but there has been extraordinary pressure to reduce funding in the 2013 Farm Bill.
But with your continued support, we’re on the verge of securing $1.38 billion for the successful model of helping land trusts purchase perpetual conservation easements from willing landowners.
The 2013 Farm Bill will be considered in a climate of unprecedented fiscal constraints, under which there will be great pressure to reduce funding, consolidate programs or eliminate them altogether. Your advocacy and continuing insight will be essential to showing that expanded and improved partnerships with land trusts can help leverage limited conservation funding to achieve more.
- Fact Sheet for the Hill: Farm Bill Priorities for Land Trusts
- Fact Sheet for land trusts: Conservation Funding in the 2013 Farm Bill
Based on the thoughtful feedback of nearly 100 land trusts, we hope you’ll join us in promoting the six consensus priorities identified in Land Trust Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill (PDF):
- Maximize funding for perpetual working lands easements
- Embrace match alternatives
- Streamline the application and appraisal process for FRPP and GRP
- Leverage public-private partnerships for all working land easement programs
- Ensure that program consolidation does not undermine programmatic goals
- Give farmers and ranchers new options under the Conservation Reserve Program
You can help achieve these goals by reaching out to and telling us about your relationships with members of the House and Senate agriculture committees. If a committee member represents your service area, we hope you’ll consider inviting them to visit the places you’re working to conserve. We’ve created a guide to hosting site visits and we’re always willing to discuss strategy. Please contact Lynne Sherrod at 970-487-9924 or firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, comments, or outreach ideas that you might have regarding the 2012 Farm Bill.
We’re starting a new email list for land trust leaders who want the inside scoop on Farm Bill issues. Please email email@example.com if you’d like to be added to that list.
- October 30: Farm Bill Conference Starts Today!
- October 23: Time to Act Now to Preserve Farm Bill Funding
- October 14: Finally...House Moves on Farm Bill!
- October 2: Senate Sets Stage for Conference
- September 30: Farm Bill Expires Today - What's Next?
- August 1: Act Now to Impact Final Farm Bill
- July 26: The Best Offense Is a Good Defense
- July 11: House Passes Farm Bill on Second Attempt
- July 1: Pushing for a Full Five-Year Farm Bill
- June 20: Breaking - House Rejects Farm Bill
- June 18: Time For Action - House Takes Up Farm Bill
- June 10: Breaking News- Senate Passes Farm Bill
- Update - June 6
- The Senate voted today to invoke cloture on debate, setting up a vote for 5:30pm on Monday, June 10. Watch the proceedings here.
- June 3: New Round of Funding for GRP/FRP
- Update - May 24
- Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) spoke yesterday on the Senate floor about conservation programs within the Farm Bill, and specifically about conservation easements. Watch his remarks here.
- Update - May 22
- The Senate is now debating S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 on the floor. A vote is expected, though not guaranteed, this week. Earlier, the White House issued a Statement of Administrative Policy supporting the Senate’s bill, despite the Administration’s opposition to cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps). Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office updated their score of the bill to $955 billion (from 2014 to 2023).
- The House is expected to vote on H.R. 1947, the Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (FARRM) in June.
- Despite cutting billions of dollars from what last year’s bills would have spent, both bills gave us essentially the same funding for purchasing easements on farms and ranches that we got in last year’s versions -- $1.38 billion.
- If both bills are passed in their present forms there will be a consensus on the construction of the new Agriculture Land Easement Program and because the cost share waiver is included in the Senate bill, it will be a topic of discussion when both chambers go to conference to finalize the bill. Unfortunately, similar language was not included in the House version, despite Representative Sean Maloney (D-NY) presenting an amendment supported by Representatives Chris Gibson (R-NY) and John Garamendi (D-CA). All three rose in defense of this vision but after the chairman expressed opposition; they withdrew the amendment before a vote, while pledging to continue to work on the issue.
- May 16: Call Your Senators Today
- Update May 14: Senate Committee Approves Key Conservation Amendment
The first step to victory for increasing cost-share flexibility for land trust match in the new Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) program has been achieved. Senator Michael Bennet’s (D-CO) allows the Secretary of Agriculture to waive any portion of an eligible entity’s required 25% cash contribution which can be matched by an equal increase in a voluntary landowner donation (currently limited to 25%). This is limited to projects of special significance (to be defined by the Secretary);for example historically important agricultural land or critical wildlife habitat. The federal share still cannot exceed 50% of the total value of the total purchase price of the easement. The unanimous passage of Senator Bennet’s amendment was the result of many moving pieces falling into place—the activation of the land trust community, and the Senator’s passionate leadership and support of conservation positioned this issue for success. The amendment was voted on during markup of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, which passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee by a vote of fifteen to five. In the House, a similar amendment (#65) supported by Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Chris Gibson (R-NY) and John Garamendi (D-CA) is being voted on by the Agriculture Committee today.
The key element of this triumph is you—the land trust community. Leaders in conservation from all across the country reached out directly to their members of Congress to help them better understand the importance of their work and the direct relevance that it represents to their surrounding communities. However, this is just the first step. The House amendment must still get through the House Ag Committee and passed in full by both chambers, but your help is what will get this over the finish line.
- Senator Bennet press release on the Farm Bill, with quote by Lynne Sherrod
- Full text of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, S. 954
Read more on the cost-share waiver amendment:
New Report Highlights Economic Benefits of FRPP
Read our new report on the economic benefits of the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program -- the model for Agricultural Land Easements in the new farm bill. More.
In theory, the funding levels specified by each five-year farm bill are automatic, but the appropriations committees can, and often do, impose caps. These cuts are doubly painful as they also reduce the “baseline” available for conservation programs in the subsequent farm bill. You can help prevent these cuts by getting to know members of the House and Senate appropriations committees from your state, and particularly any members of their agriculture subcommittees (House and Senate lists).
FRPP and GRP weren't cut in the first four years under the 2008 Farm Bill, bringing FRPP to a record $175 million in fiscal year 2011 and allowing GRP to proceed towards its acreage goal of 1.22 million acres. For fiscal year 2012, however, FRPP was cut to $150 million, GRP acreage cap was reduced by 30%, and other conservation programs sustained more severe cuts (). Please see our recent updates for details:
- September 11, 2012: 6-Month Funding Bill Boosts Most Programs -- Except for Ag Easements
- February 15, 2012: President’s Budget Would Fully Fund FRPP, Boost LWCF
- November 20, 2011: FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Enacted with Smaller GRP Cut
- October 19, 2011: McCain Amendment Would Slash Conservation, Farm Bill Fast-Tracked
- September 21, 2011: FRPP, GRP and Charitable Deduction at Risk
- June 23, 2011: Conservation Funding at Risk -- Calls Needed to Your Senators
- June 9, 2011: House Cuts Farm Bill Easement Programs
- April 14, 2011: Budget Deal Restores Most Conservation Funding
- February 18, 2011: House Republicans, President Obama Battle Over Budgets
Thanks to the advocacy of hundreds of land trusts and a national coalition of conservation, sportsmen's and agricultural organizations, the 2008 Farm Bill greatly increased conservation funding, made easement programs more available for conservation by land trusts and improved the cost share programs that help landowners enhance the conservation values of their land. Read our press release.
The following cross-cutting resources from the Alliance, its partners and the Natural Resources Conservation Service can help you and the landowners you work with access these programs:
- 2008 Farm Bill Text & Report Language Related to Land Trust Priorities
- Program information from the Natural Resources Conservation Service
- The Farm Bill-Steady Funding in Unstable Times -- A brief overview from the fall 2009 issue of Saving Land magazine.
- Conserving Habitat Through the Federal Farm Bill -- A guide for land trusts and landowners from Defenders of Wildlife
- Farmland Information Center – A website and hotline (800-370-4879) from American Farmland Trust, featuring state pages that bundle key contacts, statistics, literature, laws, sample documents and legislative briefs to provide a snapshot of farmland protection activity.
- Farm Bill Guides from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
- Ready to get started? Contact your NRCS state office.
If you would like to learn how to better use FRPP funds, click here to view the presentation given by Jane Ellen Hamilton, a conservation attorney and Jeremy Stone, director of FRPP. The audio recording is available here.
While they comprise barely 1% of all farm bill spending, America’s land trusts have helped to leverage the farm bill’s easement programs into millions of acres of permanently conserved agricultural lands. Funding devoted to the purchase of perpetual conservation easements from willing landowners helps secure food and fiber, clean water, wildlife habitat, and our rural heritage -- a good investment for future generations of farmers, ranchers and all Americans.
The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) is the oldest and most widely utilized Farm Bill program by land trusts in the protection of working lands. It provides matching funds for land trusts and government entities to purchase development rights from willing landowners, keeping productive farm and ranchland in agricultural use. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the Alliance and its partners succeeded in greatly increasing FRPP funding and shifting its easements away from federal ownership. In 2012 we hope to build on these achievements with greater flexibility for landowners and easement holders.
- NEW: Report on Economic Benefits of FRPP
- Additional background on FRPP
- NRCS Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program Webpage
- Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program Final Rule and Manual
- Alliance Comments on FRPP Rule Certification Process
- Webinar on FRPP Final Rule
The Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) was established in 2002 to support working grazing operations, enhance plant and animal biodiversity, and protect grassland under threat of conversion to other uses, using perpetual conservation easements and rental contracts. Participants voluntarily limit future development and cropping uses of the land while retaining the right to continue grazing operations. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the Alliance and its partners succeeded in re-authorizing GRP for an additional 1.22 million acres and adding the option of easement acquisition by qualified third parties, although more changes are needed to fully realize the potential of that option.
- Additional background on GRP
- NRCS Grassland Reserve Program Webpage
- Grassland Reserve Program Final Rule and Manual
- Webinar on GRP Final Rule
The Wetlands Reserve Program provides funds to restore wetlands while protecting them with a conservation easement. It’s the largest easement program in the 2008 Farm Bill, with a 3 million acre cap costing approximately $1.9 billion over five years. These federally-held reserve interest deeds are more restrictive than the easements used for working lands programs, allowing grazing and timber harvests only where compatible with wetland habitat values. While land trusts cannot hold easements under WRP, the program is often used in conjunction with land trust-held working lands easements on adjacent uplands.
- NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program Webpage
- Wetlands Reserve Program Interim Final Rule
- NEW: Wetlands Reserve Program Brochure
Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP)
Similar to the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) often receives funding in the wake of flood disasters. Its goal is to restore floodplain functions, conserve wildlife habitat, and restrict development on frequently-flooded lands. While land trusts cannot hold EWP easements, land trust preserves may be eligible and EWP easements are so restrictive that landowners may be eager to sell or donate their remaining interest in the land to a local land trust.
Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP)
While small annual appropriations have limited its potential, the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) provides an exciting new opportunity for the conservation of working forests. It provides easement purchases and restoration cost-share agreements to private forest landowners who agree to protect and improve habitat for endangered and potentially endangered species. Allowing land trusts to hold HFRP and FLP easements is one of our goals for the 2012 Farm Bill.
Forest Legacy Program (FLP)
The Forest Legacy Program (FLP) provides grants to states for the purchase of conservation easements and fee acquisition of environmentally-sensitive or threatened working forest lands, often in partnership with land trusts. While the farm bill can impact the provisions of Forest Legacy, it is generally funded by annual appropriations from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For more information please see our page on LWCF and Forest Legacy.
While our primary focus is on the easement programs, the vast majority of farm bill conservation funding is dedicated to cost-share programs that help agricultural landowners restore the conservation values of their land. By helping landowners apply for these programs, land trusts can help to restore the conservation values of the land they’ve conserved and improve farm viability. In some cases, land trusts’ fee properties may also be eligible.
In addition to the program websites linked below, please keep in mind that GRP, WRP, EWP and HFRP (listed above) also have restoration cost-share components:
- Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
- Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
- Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP)
- Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
- Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI)
- Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG)
- Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP)
- Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA)
- Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP)
- Landscape Conservation Initiatives (Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and others)