On February 7, 2014, during a visit to Michigan State University with Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (MI), President Barack Obama signed a five-year Farm Bill into law, bringing an end to months of congressional wrangling over many titles of the measure, including the dairy provisions and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act,extends most major federal farm, nutrition assistance, rural development, and agricultural trade programs through FY 2018 and consolidates many conservation programs.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the measure would reduce deficits by $16.6 billion over 10 years or $23 billion when already-enacted sequester savings are factored in. Savings are achieved mostly by reducing direct payments to farmers and reductions in the SNAP.
The measure’s conservation programs provided by the Department of Agriculture provide cost-sharing, technical, and risk-management assistance for famers, foresters, landowners and ranchers. Furthermore, the measure requires that farmers comply with sound conservation practices in order to receive maximum payments on crop insurance and to participate in the newly-formed programs. Below are summaries of the different conservation and forestry programs important to ASLA and landscape architects across the country.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
CRP provides agricultural landowners with the opportunity to receive assistance for taking agricultural land out of production and establish long-term resource-conserving vegetative covers to protect topsoil from erosion and reduce water run off to improve groundwater, lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. Developing these covers will strengthen wildlife populations by providing more natural habitats. Under the bill, the number of acres enrolled in CRP will be reduced from 27.5 million, for FY 2014, to 24 million in FY 2018.
Farmable Wetland Program (FWP)
FWP, currently a pilot program, is reauthorized with an acreage cap that has been decreased from 1 million acres to 750,000 acres. FWP is a voluntary program aimed at reviving farmable wetlands and associated buffers by enhancing the vegetation and hydrology of the land.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
CSP encourages the adoption of new conservation practices while maintaining current conservation practices in order to protect natural resources. The program has an enrolled acreage cap limited to 10 million acres for each fiscal year, down from the current 13.8 million acres per year.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
EQIP provides producers with cost-sharing incentives for meeting or avoiding the need for national, state or local regulations. The bill adds developing and improving wildlife, formerly from the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), to the program’s list of priorities. EQIP Conservation Innovation Grants are also reauthorized along with the addition of on-farm research and demonstration activities, as well as initial testing of new technologies and conservation methods.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
ACEP is created by combining the Wetland Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and the Farmland Protection Program. This new program’s priorities include restoring, protecting and improving wetlands.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program
The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiatives Program and the Great Lakes Basin Program are consolidated to create the newly established Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The program will operate through CSP and ACEP to work towards advancing conservation and encouraging partnerships between private partners and producers to meet or avoid the need for natural resource regulations related to agricultural production.
The FARRM Act authorizes the Forest Service to identify critical areas within the national forest system in order to combat deteriorating forest health conditions as a result of insect infestation, drought, disease or storm damage. The Forest Service will be allowed to a conduct a greater range of activities if an area is designated as critical.
Other Conservation & Forestry Programs Reauthorized
Grassroots Source Water Protection Program, the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, the Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services Program, the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program, Forest Legacy Program, the Community Open Space Program, the Office of International Forestry, and the Healthy Forest Reserve Program.