Farm Bill Conservation Programs

A very brief Farm Bill history

1933: the first Farm Bill passed as part of the New Deal. 1985: Title II, which includes all conservation programs, was added. Reauthorization occurs every five years. The next Farm Bill will take shape in 2023.

Conservation programs in high demand

Demand for conservation funding through the Farm Bill continues to grow. Between 2010-2020, only 31% of farmers who applied to Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) received contracts.

Climate responsive projects

Conservation practices that address climate resiliency, including reduction of GHG and drought and flooding mitigation, go hand-in-hand with improving soil health, water quality, and water quantity. 

The Farm Bill provides funding for over 20 programs and subprograms administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) within the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). These varied agricultural conservation programs contain different approaches and opportunities to protect water and soil, as well as other natural resources and wildlife on private agricultural lands. Details on who qualifies for each program, what conservation practices are prioritized, the regional scope, and the amount of funding abounds.  

This resource page serves as a launchpad for learning about conservation programs authorized through the Farm Bill. The resources below are categorized as: 

A table titled "Conservation Programs within the Farm Bill" in white text on a dark blue background. There are five columns titled "program," "eligibility," "conservation focus," "funding overview," and the final column has no title. The rows include information on EQIP, Conservation Innovation Grants, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and Regional Conservation Partnerships Program.

For an introduction, read “What Does the Farm Bill Have to Do with Water Conservation?” on our blog. Check out the Clean Water For All 2023 Farm Bill Priorities webinar, which includes an overview of the Farm Bill, areas of improvement, and how to engage in the process.

If you are looking for assistance on where to begin, or have a specific question, please reach out to Erin Kanzig, River Programs Fellow, at ekanzig@rivernetwork.org  

Resources from Federal Agencies

Background on Conservation Programs

  • Agricultural Conservation: A Guide to Programs 
    • Congressional Research Service, updated August 2020 Thorough background on 20+ programs, includes explanation of 2018 Farm Bill changes.
  • Farm Bill Primer: Conservation Title 
    • Congressional Research Service, Updated January 25, 2022 – 3-page primer for an at-a-glance understanding of the Conservation Title. 
  • Conservation Outreach Grants and Agreements to support historically underserved farmers and ranchers with climate-smart agriculture through conservation assistance.  
    • Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)’s Outreach and Advocacy Division ensures that all programs and services are made accessible to all NRCS customers, fairly and equitably, with emphasis on reaching the underserved and socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers and landowners.” 

An Introduction to Conservation Programs from NRCS and FSA

ACEP

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) 

NRCS website on ACEP – Includes fact sheet, benefits, eligibility, and “how does it work” sections. Includes info on Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE).  

Deadlines – NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round. State-specific application ranking dates are set to evaluate applications for funding. Applications submitted after the ranking date are deferred to the next funding cycle. 

AMA

Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA)  

NRCS website on AMA – Includes “program at a glance,” eligibility, program data, and how to apply. AMA is available in 16 states.

Deadlines – NRCS accepts AMA applications on a continuous basis. State-specific application ranking dates are set to evaluate applications for funding. Applications submitted after the ranking date are deferred to the next funding cycle. 

CIG

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) 

NRCS website on CIG – Includes latest updates, details on on-farm conservation innovation trials, eligibility, how to apply, webinar series, and program contact information.

Deadlines – CIG has three different funding competitions, the National Competition, State Competition, and On-Farm Trials. Explore the NRCS website and grants.gov for more information on deadlines, as they vary by state. 

CREP

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) 

FSA website on CREP – Includes background info, contacts, and a fact sheet. CREP is part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and is only available in some states.

Deadlines – Enrollment is available year-round. Local USDA Service Center staff can provide further details. 

CRP

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) 

FSA website on CRP – Includes background info, 2022 signups, 2021 enrollment info, improvements, climate mitigation, and several fact sheets.  

Deadlines – CRP includes a “General CRP signup,” “Grassland CRP signup,” and “Continuous CRP signup.” In 2022, General CRP enrollment opened between January 31-March 11, while Grassland CRP enrollment opened between April 4-May 13. Land can be enrolled through the Continuous CRP signup at any time. Offers are automatically accepted provided the land and producer meet certain eligibility requirements and the enrollment levels do not exceed the statutory cap, and are not subject to competitive bidding. 

EQIP

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) 

NRCS website on EQIP – Includes “how it works,” benefits, popular practices, climate-smart ag and forestry mitigation practices, EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts, EQIP initiatives, 2018 Farm Bill updates, and program data.  

Deadlines – NRCS accepts EQIP applications year-round, but states do have application ranking dates. If you apply after the ranking date, NRCS will consider the application during the next funding cycle. Sub-programs within EQIP may have different ranking dates in each state. 

FWP

Farmable Wetlands Program (FWP) 

FSA website on FWP – Includes Program overview, FAQs, eligibility, and how to enroll. FWP is a sub-program of CRP. 

Deadlines – Applications are accepted year-round. 

RCPP

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) 

NRCS website on RCPP Includes latest updates, funding details, eligibility, conservation activities, success stories, program data, and how to apply. 

Deadlines – RCPP includes two funding types- the RCPP Classic and RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangements. In 2022, both funding opportunities were open for applications between January 13-April 13. 

Conservation Program Application Resources

Mark Magura, owner of Leap Frog LLC, enrolled 200.6 acres in NRCS's WRE Program. The easement includes former cropland restored to create wetland, prairie and forest habitat for wildlife. (Indiana NRCS photo by Brandon O'Connor).

Resources from Non-Profits, Agricultural Associations, & Academic Institutions  

Program-Specific Resources

State-Level Agricultural Conservation Programs

Looking for information on state-level agricultural conservation programs? Explore these resources and be on the lookout for new updates on River Network’s State Policy Hub regarding state-level conservation funding opportunities and future State Policy Showcases.

  • State Directory of Departments of Agriculture  
    • National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) This nonpartisan, nonprofit association represents departments of agriculture in all 50 states and 4 US territories.
  • Water Investment Ready Oregon: Accessing Federal Water Funding 
    • Willamette PartnershipThis report, published in 2021, summarizes Oregon’s success in securing funding from federal programs over the past 12 years and outlines what actions the state might take to increase federal water investment.  The methodology and results may serve as a beacon for other states. 
  • Innovative State-Level Efforts To Finance Agricultural Conservation 
    • Environmental Defense Fund (Maggie Monast and Mark Rupp), National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) (Britt Aasmundstad), and Duke University (John Feldmann and Vincent Gauthier) This report examines state sources of funding for conservation programs and the financing tools and structures that deliver incentives to farmers.

Acronym Key

Because it’s alphabet soup over here. *Asterisk indicates the program is administered by FSA. All other programs are administered by NRCS. Indented programs are subprograms. 

  • ACEP Agricultural Conservation Easement Program 
    • ACEP-ALE Agricultural Land Easements 
    • ACEP-WRE Wetlands Reserve Easement 
  • AMA Agricultural Management Assistance 
  • BIA Bureau of Indian Affairs 
  • BLM Bureau of Land Management 
  • B-P-S Buy-Protect-Sell 
  • CIG Conservation Innovation Grants 
  • CO Conservation Operations  
    • CTA Conservation Technical Assistance 
  • CRP Conservation Reserve Program* (with technical assistance by NRCS) 
    • CREP Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program* 
    • CLEAR30 Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers* 
    • FWP Farmable Wetland Program* 
    • SHIPP Soil Health and Income Protection Program*
  • CSP Conservation Stewardship Program 
    • GCI Grassland Conservation Initiative 
  • ECP Emergency Conservation Program* (tech assistance from NRCS) 
  • EFRP Emergency Forest Restoration Program* (tech assistance from NRCS) 
  • EWP Emergency Watershed Protection (administered by NRCS on private land, USFS on National Forest land) 
  • EQIP Environmental Quality Incentives Program 
    • EQIP-CIG Conservation Innovation Grants
    • EQIP-CSAF Environmental Quality Incentives Program Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry 
  • FSA Farm Service Agency 
  • HFRP Healthy Forests Reserve Program 
  • NRCS Natural Resources Conservation Service 
  • RCPP Regional Conservation Partnership Program 
  • USDA United States Department of Agriculture
  • USFS United States Forest Service 

Resource Materials