Mandatory vs Discretionary Funding for Conservation
The 2008 Farm Bill provided a five-year road map for farm and ranch conservation programs. For most of the major USDA conservation programs, the Farm Bill provides ‘mandatory’ funding for each year. That is done by providing funds through the Commodity Credit Corporation (which also pays for most farm commodity programs), rather than relying on annual Congressional appropriations bills.
In some cases, the program size is determined by acres, rather than dollars. For example, USDA is allowed to enroll up to 32 million acres nationwide in the Conservation Reserve Program. Other programs where funding is based on acres include the Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and Conservation Stewardship Program (see our Farm Bill Background page to learn more about these important programs).
For other programs, the 2008 Farm Bill provided a set level of (mandatory) funding for each year. Included in this category are the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and Farmland Protection Program.
For these programs with ‘mandatory’ funding, Congress can still reduce the amount provided for in the Farm Bill by limiting the funds, or capping the acres that can be enrolled, through the annual budget or appropriations bills.
For still other conservation programs, Congress used the traditional method of funding, by “authorizing” a maximum amount of funding for each year, which must then be “appropriated” through the annual appropriations bills. Programs funded this way include the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative and Great Lakes Basin Program.
For these programs with authorizations, funding depends entirely on the annual appropriations bills passed by Congress.
For a detailed explanation of how the Congressional appropriations process works, the Congressional Research Service has published The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction.
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