Published on 12/21/2018

How the 2018 Farm Bill Prioritizes Farmers and Conservation

Earlier this week, the President signed the 2018 Farm Bill which included key provisions to update and support on-farm conservation, making it easier and more accessible to farmers and agricultural retailers. While the Farm Bill is very long and highly complex—below is an overview of a couple key provisions and what they mean for farmers.  

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. 

Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN is focused on thinking big picture for new business models for our owners - - and to use sustainability as a business opportunity to leverage the technology, products, and expertise to support farmers’ stewardship. We are excited about the updated conservation provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill and will continue to identify and work for ways to make on-farm conservation easier and more accessible to farmers.