California Rolls out 2014 Farm Bill Conservation Programs

Streamlined list of programs continues to reflect significant environmental investment

Apr 25, 2014, 16:17 ET from USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service

DAVIS, Calif., April 25, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Lawmakers whittled down the number of program names to remember, but continued a strong commitment to conservation when they passed the 2014 Farm Bill on February 7 of this year. The Nation is investing $3.4 billion for conservation programs administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in fiscal year 2014 and $18.7 billion over five years.

This investment is building upon a historic conservation foundation established by agencies and agricultural producers in the last Farm Bill.  In California alone NRCS invested over $680 million using the 2008 programs. Including investments made by farmers and ranchers this means approximately $1 billion was spent by the agricultural community improving California's natural resources using Farm Bill programs between 2009-2013.   

All applications received by NRCS last fall will be transitioned and processed using the 2014 Farm Bill programs with little if any additional work required by the landowner, says California State Conservationist Carlos Suarez.

Currently, conservation opportunities are being rolled out gradually, using both new and continuing programs, according to California State Conservationist Carlos Suarez. For example, application sign ups are underway or have recently concluded for those interested in wetland easements, the national water quality initiative, the joint Forest Service-NRCS initiative, and the effort to protect the tricolored blackbird . However, most Farm Bill related changes will be reflected in program roll outs in fiscal year 2015, Suarez says.

Programs have been combined into three general categories: 1) financial assistance programs—these continue assistance through the popular Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP); 2) easement programs—three programs to protect wetlands, prevent farmland conversion, and conserve grazing lands, have been consolidated into the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP); and 3) partnership programs—the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) replaces four former programs that allowed partners to apply for special targeted funding to a group of producers with a shared resource protection focus. 

"Our partners here in California have been very proactive and successful at using the 2008 partnership programs to make needed inroads addressing issues such as nitrates, dairy water quality, pollinator decline, wildlife habitat, rangeland and forest health, irrigation efficiency and much more," said Suarez.   "We anticipate expanding our joint successes using the new RCPP program," he added.  A federal register notice giving more information on RCPP is anticipated soon.

"As we begin this new Farm Bill cycle, we will continue to honor our pledge to help farmers and ranchers address the complex regulatory requirements they face," said Suarez. "We will use both the technical and financial tools at our disposal to accomplish this."

"We also emphasize conservation planning as the wisest and most efficient way to choose scientifically valid options to address natural resource concerns on the farm and ranch," Suarez said, "and landowners who have worked with conservationists to plan the best suite of practices to protect their natural resources will receive priority in funding decisions."

Fact sheets are available providing information on each of the new programs, comparing the 2008 and the 2014 set of conservation programs, and detailing the step by step process for farmers and ranchers to participate in Farm Bill conservation programs.

Since its inception in 1935, NRCS has worked in partnership with private landowners and a variety of local, state and federal conservation partners to deliver conservation based on specific, local needs.

SOURCE USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service