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Farm Bill

Some of the nation's most successful voluntary conservation programs take place under the federal Farm Bill. Across the country, farmers are protecting wildlife habitat, controlling soil erosion, and reducing polluted runoff with technical and financial assistance from Farm Bill programs. The Farm Bill is among the largest sources of conservation funding in the federal government.

Through such programs as the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, hundreds of millions of dollars are available to private landowners to keep wetlands, grasslands, and other fragile lands protected as wildlife habitat.

The National Wildlife Federation works to ensure that worthy Farm Bill conservation programs are reauthorized at appropriate levels, structured to achieve maximum wildlife and environmental benefits, and fully funded during the annual appropriations process.

Background

The Farm Bill is one of the most important federal policies affecting U.S. agricultural conservation. The Farm Bill has existed in different forms for many years and comes up for reauthorization approximately every five years. The latest farm bill passed by Congress was The Agricultural Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill), which funds programs through 2018. Most of the Farm Bill funds are spent on nutrition, but commodity programs, crop insurance, energy, and conservation programs are also part of the Farm Bill.

How Does the Farm Bill Help Wildlife?

Some of the nation’s most successful voluntary conservation programs are funded by the Farm Bill. Across the country, farmers are protecting wildlife habitat, controlling soil erosion and reducing polluted runoff with assistance from Farm Bill programs. Yet these popular programs are woefully under-funded. Many landowners who would like to do more for fish and wildlife are turned away for a lack of funds. It is very important to the future of wildlife on private lands that the Farm Bill continues to provide sufficient funding to address conservation needs.

Farm Bill Conservation Programs

Several different Farm Bill conservation programs have helped improve wildlife habitat in the US. Learn about the unique functions of each program in the page below. The Agricultural Act of 2014 consolidates some of these programs into a new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and authorized a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

Conservation Reserve Program

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays farmers annual rental payments under 10-15 year contracts, to set aside marginal land. The program also pays up to half the cost of establishing conservation practices that address soil erosion, water quality, wetland and forest enhancement, and wildlife management. Examples of these practices include establishing vegetative cover or trees on erodible cropland, planting native grasses, thinning or conducting controlled burning of pine forests, and placing filterstrips along stream banks to stem polluted runoff and provide habitat for wildlife. The Agricultural Act of 2014 reduced the amount of acreage allowed in the CRP gradually each year, down to 24 million acres allowed by 2018.

David Davis is proud to be a part of the solution for declining sage grouse populations, which once flourished in western Washington, but have since declined by about 75 percent. Davis and his fellow farmers in Douglas County, Washington have turned nearly 186,000 acres of wheat into sage grouse habitat since CRP was created in 1985. “The birds were disappearing until CRP got going,” Davis says. “This summer, I saw 10 or 12 young sage grouse cross the road just before harvest. I’ve never seen that before.” Davis’s success is being repeated in Oregon, Idaho and Montana, where greater sage grouse also are using CRP habitat.

Grassland Reserve Program

The Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) is a voluntary program that enables landowners to restore or protect native grasslands on portions of their property. Grasslands are valuable wildlife habitat currently in decline. Due to limited funding, there is a backlog of over 800,000 applications from farmers to participate in the GRP.

Jeff Basford owns a farm in Dodge County, MN. According to NRCS, Mr. Basford was able to create valuable wildlife habitat through the Grassland Reserve Program while working to achieve his land management goals. A wide range of wildlife, including many bird species, have benefited from the planting of native grasses on the farm. “You know that old saying: If you make it they will come. Well, they did,” said Basford. The native warm season grasses have provided valuable habitat in both the summer and winter seasons for pheasant populations, according to NRCS.

Wetland Reserve Program

The Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) allows interested farmers the opportunity to restore, maintain and protect wetlands on their property. Most lands restored under WRP are marginal, high risk, flood-prone lands that wouldn't be suitable for growing crops. The WRP enables landowners to take these lands out of production and restore them to beneficial use as wetland wildlife habitat.

One of the first WRP projects in Michigan, the Portage River Restoration, has become a perfect example of what can happen when a farmer is willing to take marginal cropland out of production and put it towards a higher use. According to NRCS, this 180 acre wetland restoration located in Jackson County, restored 80 acres of marsh and 100 acres of grassy wetlands and uplands – perfect fall migratory staging and breeding habitat for Sandhill cranes and other migratory waterfowl. This part of Michigan has one of the highest nesting densities of Sandhill cranes in all of North America thanks in part to wetland restorations projects such as this one. The land remains in private ownership, with a permanent easement to protect it into the future.

Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program

The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) is a voluntary program that pays up to 75 percent of the cost to private land owners of enhancing wildlife habitat on their land. The program is not limited to agricultural lands, but is open to any private landowners who would like to create wildlife-friendly habitat enhancements to a portion of their land, such as restoring native prairie grasses, performing forest management practices, or improving aquatic areas.

WHIP was combined into EQIP in the Agricultural Act of 2014. A minimum of 5 percent of EQIP funding will go to wildlife practices as the 2014 Farm Bill is implemented.

In Moore County, NC, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program is helping a local community partner with an equestrian facility with the overall goal of restoring longleaf pine savanna that, according to NRCS will be beneficial to local wildlife. The hope is that the new habitat will be beneficial to the endangered Red cockaded-woodpeckers as well as other types of wildlife, including amphibians, reptiles and grass and shrub- breeding birds. Winter fires are being used to clear the forest floor, allowing for increased sunlight and improved habitat conditions.

Conservation Stewardship Program

Unlike programs that pay farmers to set aside certain lands, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) rewards agricultural producers for environmentally-friendly measures they are willing to undertake on the lands that they keep in production. CSP offers payments to producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and who agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland and non-industrial forestland. The 2008 Farm Bill funded the CSP at $17 million per year; the 2014 Farm Bill contains $40 million in mandatory funding over 5 years.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

Similar to CSP, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices on their lands. Practices are based on a set of national priorities that are adapted to each state. These priorities include: reduction of point- and non-point source pollution to watersheds and groundwater; water conservation; reduction of soil erosion; and promotion of wildlife habitat for at-risk-species.

The Need for Conservation

Many agricultural practices produce significant environmental problems. Years of row crop production dependent upon intensive cultivation of the soil has led to considerable soil erosion and with it, nutrient loss from fields into America’s lakes, rivers, and then the oceans into which rivers flow. Vital nutrients often travel with the soil, creating additional problems including the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, back in farm fields, the use of monoculture cropping techniques, highly dependent on chemicals to protect against competing weeds and insects, have led to growing water quality, biodiversity, and human safety issues. All the while this common system of intensive tillage and reliance on fossil-fuel based fertilizers contributes to wildlife degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Many agriculture programs established through the federal farm bill offer solutions to farmers through technical advice, cost sharing, and land payments to reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture. In many ways, these programs provide the only backstop to complete degradation of numerous ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and watersheds. Moreover, these programs offers some of the most cost-effective solutions available while providing vital environmental protection and employment opportunities in rural America.

Erosion and Nutrient Runoff

Over 100 million agricultural acres across the U.S. currently experience unsustainable soil erosion rates, making soil erosion the leading pollution problem for U.S. rivers and streams. Soil lost from farm fields enters water as suspended particles. Suspended soil particles are harmful because they shade out lower depths of water, preventing plant growth and limiting fish growth and populations.

Particles accumulate through the process of sedimentation. These accumulating sediments can impede the ability of sight-feeding fish to find food; clog fish gills, blocking their oxygen absorption; and bury and suffocate eggs and larvae.

All of these impacts cause reduce growth and populations, increase illness and shifts in aquatic community composition. The accumulation of millions of tons of soil annually disrupts not only water habitat for wildlife, but also barge traffic channels, requiring costly and destructive dredging. Sedimentation also creates costs for the thousands of communities that obtain drinking water from rivers. In total, erosion from conventional agriculture practices costs tax payers and consumers an estimated $8 billion to $13 billion per year.

Fertilizer

Nitrogen fertilizer is often added to soils under traditional cropping methods to support corn-intensive rotations. In conventional agricultural systems, nitrogen is added in a single, large dose often not synchronized to plant demand which requires a low, steady supply of nitrogen. Since plants cannot immediately use the applied nitrogen and the soil under intensive tillage loses much of its nitrogen holding capacity, much of the applied nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere or to the water supply. Soil erosion is a major cause of nutrient runoff; roughly 90 percent of all nitrogen and phosphorus received into water bodies result from erosion.

The impacts of nutrients in waterways continue to persist for months after entering the water supply and continue literally thousands of miles away. Agricultural nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus in particular, from the corn and soybean-intensive region of southern Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio have been found to contribute to the hypoxic zone, or "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.

Manure

Manure from large concentrations of agricultural animals also cause environmental stress. Manure not only carries considerable nitrates and contributes to nitrate pollution problems, it also carries numerous pathogens including E-coli, Salmonella, and Cryptosporidium—all of which can survive in manure outside of an animal’s body for extended periods.

Rural drinking wells may become contaminated when manure is applied on lands with shallow water tables. Improper handling can allow manure to enter surface water, threatening not only human health with the spread of pathogens, but the health and survival of fish and wildlife as well.

How Conservation Programs Can Address Erosion and Nutrient Runoff

Farm Bill programs designed to assist and encourage farmers and land owners to implement erosion prevention practices can have a significant positive impact in reducing erosion and nutrient loss from farmlands.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides a rental payment to farmers to take their land out of production and plant perennial grasses. Establishing a year-round cover and ending repetitive tilling reduces erosion from agricultural lands by up to 95 percent while at the same time providing valuable wildlife habitat vital for the survival of a number of species.

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) pays farmers already implementing conservation practices on their working land while providing them an incentive to implement more conservation practices.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides cost-share assistance to farmers to help them implement techniques such as riparian buffers, grasses waterways, and treed windbreaks that catch soil and nutrients before they can enter waterways. Additionally, EQIP can provide cost share assistance to livestock farmers to install anaerobic digesters which capture and eliminate methane emissions from stored livestock waste while reducing the nutrient runoff potential of the manure when applied to fields.

Agricultural Chemicals

Pesticides, herbicides, and other chemical treatments designed to reduce competition for crops from insects and weeds often also have fates similar to nitrogen and other applied nutrients, leaching into ground water or running off into surface waters, creating health hazards for humans and the environment.

In a study by the United States Geologic Survey, pesticides were found in 97 percent of streams tested in agricultural areas. The most frequently detected herbicides in surface waters included atrazine, acentanilides, and 2,4-D, all commonly used in agriculture. Pesticides, even at low levels, have been shown to affect fish and amphibian species, often sending shock waves through the entire food chain and ecosystem. Moreover, 61 percent of all shallow groundwater sources in agricultural areas tested positive for pesticides. Once ground-water contamination occurs, it is difficult to reverse.

The considerable pesticide and chemical presence in America’s waters creates considerable health impacts and costs to Americans. Atrazine, present in 97 percent of waterways in agricultural areas, reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen. Atrazine and other agricultural chemicals have been linked to causing birth defects, various cancers, and other health issues. In total, agricultural chemicals result in billions of dollars of health care costs each year.

Conservation Programs Help Farmers Replace Chemical Inputs with Natural, Environmentally Friendly Methods

Many agricultural chemicals are designed to reduce the competition row crops face from weeds and insects. Farmers spend billions of dollars each year on such inputs in hopes of realizing a larger yield and profit at harvest. However, a number of techniques are available that reduce weed and insect competition while eliminating chemical runoff and increasing farmers profit margins.

Cover crops and organic agricultural practices use natural plants to out-compete pests or to provide natural methods to control insects via natural competitors. EQIP provides funding to assist farmers in implementing cover crops or to transition their farm to organic production. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) both offer assistance and funding to farmers to plant perennial grasses that can better compete against weeds and insects without the aid of chemicals.

Irrigation Degrading Land and Destroying Water Supply

Throughout many arid regions of the United States, irrigation has served to provide stable and timely water supply to crops; helping farmers to consistently produce bumper crops.

Years of irrigation, however, have led to two chronic problems:

  1. Salinization of irrigated lands and over-drawn water tables: Continued irrigation of land from ground water sources brings with it minerals, including small amounts of salt. Unlike water which percolates through the subsoil or runs off the surface, salts build up over time where they are deposited, eventually making the land unfarmable.
  2. Water tables are not recharged at a pace that matches the consumption from irrigation systems: Each year, ground water levels beneath 14 million acres of irrigated crop land fall between six inches and five feet.

Conventional agricultural production has often challenged biodiversity. In the years following settlement of the North American continent, many species of native wildlife benefited slightly from the small introduction of agriculture by settlers by causing an increase in diversification of food and cover on landscapes still dominated by native plant communities. However, as agriculture expanded and increased in its ability to alter the landscape, most native wildlife species declined; reducing biodiversity. Conversion of native diverse plant communities to monoculture agricultural plantings continues to stand as the greatest challenge to biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

AWEP and EQIP Can Reduce the Need for Irrigation

Farmers often implement irrigation systems to avoid temporary drought conditions which periodically occur. However, there are other methods farmers may use to address water issues without relying on costly infrastructure that can, over time, degrade soils and destroy groundwater supplies.

Conservation tillage reduces or eliminates tillage practices. Crops are planted into the residue of the previous crop, skipping multiple tillage steps that remove crop residue and break up the soil into small, loose pieces. This practice has been found to help soils retain more water near the root zone for subsequent crops; dramatically reducing and sometimes eliminating the need for irrigation. Farmers can obtain assistance through EQIP to transition to a conservation tillage system.

The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) helps farmers update irrigation systems to more water-efficient technologies, reducing the amount of water farmers draw from ground water supplies while also slowing the process of salinization that occurs with heavy irrigation.

Agriculture’s Impact on Wildlife

Since settlement time, North America has lost over 85 percent of its forest, wetland, and grassland acres to agricultural land conversion. This loss of millions of acres is compounded by suburban sprawl as well as the breaking up of larger natural ecosystems by agricultural production areas. By segmenting these ecosystems and using :

Numerous Farm Bill Programs Help Preserve Habitat Values

Federal programs play significant roles in assisting farmers and landowners to implement techniques to protect wildlife. Land management programs designed to reduce erosion or produce other nutrient management benefits also produce benefits to wildlife.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Security Program (CSP) and the Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) provide vital cover within agricultural working lands.

In addition, the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) offers long-term or permanent easements to landowners as well as cost-share funding to restore vital habitat to its original condition. WRP protects 1.9 million acres of valuable wetlands. Without such support, these wetlands face the real threat of conversion to farmland.

The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) provides technical assistance and up to 75 percent cost share to implement techniques to improve wildlife habitat.

Impact of Industrial Agriculture on Climate Change

Industrial agricultural practices have a heavy reliance on fossil fuel inputs, with production focused on maximizing yield rather than efficiency. This reliance results in considerable greenhouse gas emissions. Nitrogen fertilizer is often applied to cropland in one single, large dose, which plants cannot easily or quickly use. If not taken up in a short period by plants, that nitrogen is either lost to rain which carries it to waterways, or nitrogen becomes volatized, turning into a gas and escaping to the atmosphere where it contributes to climate change. Per molecule, nitrous oxide has 310 times the heat trapping ability compared to carbon dioxide. And agriculture contributes 74 percent of all domestic nitrous oxide emissions.

In addition, agriculture is a major source of methane gas, which has 22 times the heat trapping ability of carbon dioxide. Methane develops as a result of breakdown of organic or plant material by bacteria. Cows and other rumens have such bacteria in their stomachs, resulting in some direct methane emissions. More importantly, when animal waste is stored in a liquid form without oxygen, considerable amounts of methane are released. Agriculture produces 28 percent of all domestic methane emissions.

Finally, the common practice of intensive land cultivation often results in extended periods of soil exposed to the air. This lack of land cover, which persists for up to five months out of the year for many agricultural fields, results in considerable carbon emissions. Plants that sequestered carbon from the atmosphere during the growing season become carbon emitters when tilled into the soil to make way for the next year’s crop.Agriculture loses an estimated 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year due to often unnecessary intensive cultivation practices.

Conservation Programs Can Reverse Agriculture Carbon Emissions, Turning Agriculture into a Carbon Sink

Numerous farm bill programs assist farmers in directly or indirectly addressing greenhouse gas emissions or increasing land sequestration of greenhouse gases.

Programs such as CRP, CSP, GRP, WRP, and WHIP help establish long-term land cover. Permanent land cover increases the carbons sequestration rates of agricultural lands. In addition, farming with permanent cover reduces the amount of fossil fuel inputs required, reducing agriculture's emissions.

The Rural Energy for America Program, REAP, provides funding to on-farm energy projects such as solar powered water pumps, wind turbines, or anaerobic digesters. These projects either reduce agriculture’s energy demand, shrinking its carbon emissions, or help farmers implement waste management projects that provide multiple benefits ranging from energy production to cleaner air, odor elimination, and cleaner water.

Through these programs, agriculture has the chance to not only reduce emissions, but become a low cost carbon sink vital to helping the nation and world address climate change.

Top Priorities

Thanks to the hard work of the conservation community, the 2014 Farm Bill contained many hard-won compromises and is overall a beneficial bill to wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation supported the bill, but we knew our work was not done. The National Wildlife Federation determined three top priorities for the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Adopt a Sodsaver Provision to Protect Native Habitat

Sodaver is a provision that will helps to protect America's last remaining native prairies by limiting subsidies on land that is converted to cropland from previously unplowed and unplanted grasslands. The 2014 Farm Bill does include a Sodsaver provision, but it is limited to only six states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska. These states have critically important wildlife habitat, and in the past few years, have lost grasslands at alarming rates.

High crop prices and federally-subsidized crop insurance encourage plowing native grassland and forestlands that have previously never been plowed. Many birds, such as the bobolink, depend on native grasslands for nesting or food. Bringing this often-marginally productive land into production provides little benefit to tax payers, increases long-term costs due to erosion and nutrient loss, and ultimately leads to lower water quality, less capacity to reduce flooding, and the loss of valuable wildlife habitat.

Sodsaver does not prohibit farmers from breaking out new land; it ensures that they do so at their own risk, and not at the expense of taxpayers. Most of the land that is being converted from native ecosystems to cropland is marginal, highly erodible, and prone to flooding. If the risk of growing crops on this land was not underwritten by taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance and disaster assistance programs, these sensitive lands probably would not be farmed.

Relink Conservation Compliance to Crop Insurance Premium Subsidies

The huge success story of the 2014 Farm Bill is a key conservation provision that requires farmers to practice commonsense soil and wetland conservation measures on vulnerable lands in exchange for receiving crop insurance premium subsidies. Its inclusion in the farm bill is a major conservation victory that will prevent the destruction of millions of acres of wetlands and erosion of countless tons of soil.

Conservation compliance includes two common-sense eligibility requirements to receive taxpayer-funded farm bill support—Swampbuster and Sodbuster. Swampbuster prevents farmers who drain wetlands, and Sodbuster, those who farm highly erodible lands without a conservation plan, from qualifying for farm bill programs. These provisions are designed to protect us from greater wetland loss and degraded soil and water quality.

Conservation compliance does not take away anyone's freedom to farm on their own land; farmers are free to choose to drain wetlands or farm highly erodible land with no soil conservation measures. However, by doing so they forfeit eligibility for federal benefits, since these activities harm the public good.

Compliance is not a hardship for farmers because it is easy to implement conservation plans and beneficial for the land and the farmer in the long run. For highly erodible land, there are a number of simple practices that meet conservation compliance, including no till, cover crops, and rotations with perennial crops.

These practices provide economic returns to farmers by making the land more productive. Most farmers are used to abiding by these conditions as they have been in place since 1985. It is only because the agricultural support system is shifting, from direct payments to greater subsidies for crop insurance, that action is needed to ensure these eligibility requirements continue to apply.

Over the last 15 years, Congress has increased the subsidy amounts on crop insurance, making it the largest subsidy to farmers. Crop insurance subsidies are estimated to cost taxpayers $90 billion over the next 10 years. Currently the federal government pays for 60 percent of the cost of crop insurance premiums (farmers pay the remaining percentage). It is only fair for landowners to protect the public from soil loss, nutrient pollution, and wetland loss in return for taxpayer support. Without conservation compliance, millions of acres of highly erodible land and wetlands that are not currently farmed could be placed into production with serious consequences on the public.

Maintain Funding for Conservation in the Farm Bill

The 2014 farm bill provides $57.6 billion for conservation programs over the next 10 years. While the overall reduction in funding is disappointing, the bill was a good compromise in a tough budget climate.

In addition to funding levels, the 2014 Farm Bill combined several existing farm bill conservation programs into a new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and added a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

Programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provide taxpayer benefits by improving soil, water and wildlife habitat, and are also popular with farmers. Yet, conservation funding has declined in recent years. In the 2008 Farm Bill the CRP took a cut of 7 million acres, which is having serious negative repercussions for wildlife on agricultural land that depend on the land for nesting habitat, such as the Eastern meadowlark. Another 8 million acre was cut in from the CRP in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The USDA estimates that 75 percent of threatened and endangered species live on private land. Further cuts could lead to the listing of several species of wildlife under the Endangered Species Act and the decline of many wildlife species. It is critical to wildlife that the next farm bill does not take disproportionate cuts to conservation funding.

Conservation Funding

The Farm Bill authorizes spending for many different programs, including conservation, nutrition, energy, and crop insurance. The largest portion of Farm Bill Funding goes toward the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as "food stamps." Although it makes up a much smaller portion of the bill, the Conservation Title of the 2008 Farm Bill authorizes and provides a guideline for spending on farm conservation programs, which account for about 8 percent of spending on the 2008 Farm Bill.

The National Wildlife Federation works to ensure that there is adequate funding for programs to help farmers install and maintain conservation practices on their land, as well as land set aside for conservation and wildlife uses. There are two major processes that affect how much funding farm bill programs receive: authorization and appropriations.

Authorization to Appropriations

Authorization, through mandatory and discretionary funding, and appropriations are the two important steps in the process of funding farm bill programs. The National Wildlife Federation works to support robust funding for conservation programs in both steps of the process.

Approximately every five years, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees write a farm bill that sets initial funding levels and authorization of farm bill programs. The appropriations process, on the other hand, is an annual process governed by the House and Senate Appropriations Committee. Funding for farm bill programs in the appropriations process is often significantly reduced during annual appropriations.

Mandatory and Discretionary Funding

For some farm bill programs, Congress used the traditional method of funding - authorizing a maximum amount for each year that must then be appropriated annually. This is often referred to as "discretionary funding." Discretionary conservation programs include the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative and Great Lakes Basin Program.

For most of the major USDA conservation programs, the farm bill provides "mandatory" funding for each year. Mandatory funding does not rely on annual Congressional appropriations bills; however, it is subject being reduced during the appropriations process. These cuts are known as "Changes in Mandatory Program Spending," or CHIMPS.

Mandatory funding provides a road map for conservation programs for the life of each farm bill. In some cases, the program size is determined by acres, rather than dollars. For example, under the 2008 Farm Bill, USDA is allowed to enroll up to 32 million acres nationwide in the Conservation Reserve Program. The Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and the Conservation Stewardship Program are also funded based on acreage under the 2008 Farm Bill.

For other programs, the 2008 Farm Bill provided a set level of mandatory funding each year. The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and Farmland Protection Program are included in this category.

Appropriations—Changes in Mandatory Program Spending (CHIMPS)

Even though most conservation programs have "mandatory" funding, Congress can still reduce the amount of funding authorized in the farm bill by limiting the funds, or capping the acres that can be enrolled through the annual budget or appropriations bills. Such Changes in Mandatory Program Spending, or CHIMPS, have been responsible for the increasing cuts to conservation programs in recent years.

Farm bill conservation programs are highly popular with farmers and beneficial to taxpayers. The National Wildlife Federation is working to ensure that conservation does not continue to be limited due to lack of funding.

Success Stories

Conservationists are finding innovative finding ways to leverage Farm Bill conservation programs to benefit fish and wildlife across our country. Here are some success stories.

Combating Climate Change with Conservation Programs »

Farmers and ranchers are using USDA conservation programs to help them water livestock with solar power, store carbon in the soil while creating wildlife habitat, and produce milk using much less energy.

Maintaining Benefits of Expiring CRP »

As contracts on millions of acres of Conservation Reserve Program land expire, efforts are underway to maintain many of the soil, water and wildlife benefits on the land by making the transition to well-managed grazing systems.

Leveraging Farm Bill Conservation Programs to Combat Climate Change »

USDA conservation programs provide more than $4 billion per year for conservation on America's farms and ranches, but they could be doing even more in the fight against climate change.

Saving the Chesapeake Bay While Conserving Rare Birds »

In Pennsylvania, over 172,000 acres of cropland has been converted to grass buffers that keep nutrients and chemicals out of the Chesapeake Bay while providing habitat for rare grassland birds.

Implementing State Wildlife Plans »

Nebraska and Missouri are two states using USDA working lands programs to put in place wildlife-friendly farm and ranch practices that their State Wildlife Plans say will benefit fish and wildlife.

Restoring Longleaf Pine and Warm-Season Grass »

A regional USDA initiative benefits wildlife by restoring longleaf pine trees and the warm-season grasses needed to keep the forests healthy.

Read our full analysis of the 2014 Farm Bill »

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