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.
You Helped to Make This Possible
The Land Trust Alliance has led a coordinated effort by land trusts across the country to persuade lawmakers to make conservation funding available. This has been a top priority for the organization, and we have worked closely with both the House and Senate agriculture committees on the consolidation of the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) into a new Agricultural Lands Easement program (ALE). Also, the Alliance has worked with Senate and House leaders to secure a provision that allows the 25% cash match requirement to be waived by the Secretary of Agriculture.
These successes could not have been possible without the support of visionary donors and the efforts of land trust leaders across the country who built relationships with key Congressional decision makers.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) was newly established in the 2014 Farm Bill. RCPP combines four former programs and will be used to leverage funds from partners for conservation on a regional or geographic scale. Land trusts can also use funding from programs like the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
Applications will be available starting in the next month or two.
Funding for Perpetual Agricultural Lands Easements
Securing adequate funding for easements to protect working farms, ranches and forests was the Alliance’s top priority for the 2013 Farm Bill. The Agricultural Lands Easement program, which covers both rangelands and croplands, will fund more than $1 billion for conservation over the next ten years – with most of that funding coming in the next five years.
The Agricultural Lands Easement program (ALE) combines the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP). ALE is part of the larger Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which also contains the former Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).
Funding for the program is broken down below, with the 2018 level being used as the baseline for the next Farm Bill. While ACEP is considered a mandatory program (and thus these funding levels are set in stone), the Appropriations Committee can still take it upon themselves to set funding levels in future years.
|Year||Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Funding (in millions):|
Early drafts of the farm bill specified that at least 40% or 50% of the ACEP funding would go to ALE, up from a recent average of 30%.* The final conference report does not designate a specific allocation between Agricultural Land Easements and Wetlands Easements, so we will need your help to ensure that ALE gets its fair share in the future.
*This historical allocation was determined from calculating the enacted spending levels of FRPP and GRP and dividing that from the sum of the spending levels of FRPP, GRP and WRP from FY2014-FY2008. Thus, the combined spending levels of the working lands easement programs has been about 30% of the total easement program spending.
FRPP required land trusts and local governments to provide a cash match for FRPP projects. GRP easements, when held by the government, required none. With ALE covering both functions, and with land trusts and local governments taking on the long-term stewardship of those easements, we successfully pushed a provision enabling the Secretary to waive the requirement that “eligible entities” (land trusts) provide 25% of the funds for the purchase of an easement. The provision instead allows landowners to donate the remaining amount, using the value of the donated development rights as a substitute for the cash. The conference committee adopted an amendment during negotiations stipulating that use of the waiver is limited to lands in “active agricultural production.”
This embrace of match alternatives will help ensure that where there is a lack of state and local conservation funding programs there is still an opportunity for protection of strategically important lands.
- Read more about the cost-share waiver
Forest Legacy and Community Forest Caps Lifted
The conference report eliminated the original House language that capped the Forest Legacy and Community Forest Programs to $55 million and $1.5 million, respectively, in future years (the funding also was not guaranteed). The House bill would have sunset these programs in 2018, unless they were extended. The conference report instead removed the caps, giving appropriators the flexibility to adequately fund these programs.
The 2013 (now 2014) 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
- Match Matters
- Fact Sheet: Pass the Farm Bill Now!
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 email email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be added to that list.
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:
- January 21, 2014: Conservation Funding Emerges Unscathed From a Perilous Year
- October 30, 2013: What is the Budget Conference and Why Should I Care?
- April 11, 2013: President's FY14 Budget released; requests full, mandatory funding for LWCF
- March 26, 2013: FY13 Spending Deal Boosts FRPP, Averts Disproportionate Cuts
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)