Published on 02/28/2019

Breaking Down What the 2018 Farm Bill Means for Farmers and Conservation

Over the past two years, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN has been working tirelessly to ensure key policy provisions were included in the 2018 Farm Bill, particularly in the Conservation Title. Our goal was to make on-farm conservation easier and more accessible to our farmers and ag retailers.
As an organization, we are focused on thinking big picture for our owners.  Sustainability is a business opportunity to leverage the technology, products, and expertise to support farmers’ on-farm stewardship. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill helps further this goal in a few key ways:  
  1. This is the first Farm Bill to make ag retail and farmer co-ops part of the solution for on-farm conservation.  This will allow ag retail agronomists easier access to becoming Technical Service Providers (TSPs) to deliver USDA programs and be reimbursed for their work.
  2. This Farm Bill promotes innovation as a key conservation driver—specifically supporting the use of Ag Tech tools for on-farm sustainability
  3. There is a new, $25 million dollar program for Innovation and Soil Health.  This means that farmers can more easily test new on-farm conservation practices and innovative approaches to sustainability.
Below is a more detailed assessment of the policy implications of the 2018 Farm Bill and Conservation Title.
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 continues the voluntary, locally-led incentive-based conservation model. It builds on the success of the 2014 Farm Bill by streamlining, simplifying and improving program administration. It also taps into the vast technical knowledge available in the private sector as a way of complementing NRCS reach and expertise.
Maintains Conservation Funding: The bill maintains full funding for the conservation title.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP): The bill continues the commitment to working lands by increasing EQIP funding to $2.025 billion a year by FY23. The bill also recognizes the growing field of precision agriculture by specifically authorizing precision conservation management planning and allows private entities to help innovate and deliver such plans.
Conservation Innovation Trials: One of the most exciting additions is a new $25 million a year program that connects farmers and ranchers to the conservation innovation space with public and private entities leading the way. The private sector, aided by NRCS funding, would be able test new and innovative conservation practices and tools at field scale by incentivizing farmers to try new approaches while reporting data to a public database.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): The new farm bill allows for an increased acreage cap of 27 million acres by 2023, while also addressing the issue of CRP competing with farmers for productive land by reducing rental rates, cost-share and incentive payments. The report contains provisions to increase the grassland acre floor to 2 million acres and provides more flexibility for grazing. The bill also authorizes a pilot program (50,000 acres) for short-term CRP contracts (3-5 years) called the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP).
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP): The bill continues a commitment to comprehensive working lands conservation by reforming and adding much needed flexibility to CSP. By removing the average $18 per acre funding requirement for the program, the bill intends to better incentivize farmers to address locally addressed resource concerns. The bill steps up funding to $1 billion by FY23. A number of special provisions with special payment rates are authorized including a comprehensive conservation plan, cover crops, resource crop rotations and advanced grazing management. Current CSP contracts will be honored with an option for a one-year extension for contracts expiring in 2019.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP): Targeted conservation initiatives are developed on the local level by partners and selected by USDA through a competitive, merit-based application process. The bill increases funding to $300 million per year for the program and streamlines the application process and funding mechanism to allow greater flexibility for NRCS, partners and producers. The report adds CRP and PL-566 authorities to be used nationwide and allows a grant/alternative funding arrangement that may be used for added flexibility in conservation delivery and innovation of practices.
Clarifies Cover Crop Insurance Guidelines: The bill clarifies crop insurance termination and good farming practice guidelines to ensure that cover crops don’t affect farmers’ crop insurance policies.
AGI Waiver: The bill provides the Secretary the ability to waive AGI limits for environmentally sensitive land of special significance.
More Producer Access: The bill removes impediments to conservation adoption by eliminating requirements for entities to have a SAM/DUNS number.
Emphasizes Protection of Drinking Water Sources: The bill reserves 10 percent of covered conservation funding for protection of sources of drinking water, allows community water systems to work with State Technical Committees to identify local priority areas for source water protection, and allows additional incentives for practices that protect source water.
If you are interested in learning more about our policy work or what the 2018 Farm Bill means for American farmers please contact us using our contact page.