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:
- Resources published by federal government agencies
- Resources on federal programs developed by non-profits, agricultural organizations, and academic institutions
- Resources on state-level agricultural conservation programs & how states can tap into federal funding
- Acronym Key
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- NRCS Program Application Ranking Dates
- NRCS – Features application ranking dates by state for EQUIP, CSP, ACEP, and AMA programs.
- NRCS State Offices Directory
- Lists contact information for all NRCS state offices.
- Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART)
- CART is a decision support system used for NRCS program ranking of all Farm Bill conservation programs other than CRP, streamlining the application process for technical assistance and financial assistance.
- Technical Services Providers (TSPs)
- Third party assistance to landowners from individuals, private businesses, American Indian tribes, non-profits, and/or public agencies in partnership with NRCS – TSPs can provide support developing nutrient management plans, increasing irrigation efficiency, conservation planning services, etc. Explore this page if you want to become a certified TSP or would like to work with one.
- Where Can I Find Agricultural Funding Resources?
- USDA National Agricultural Library, compiled by The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) – Links to a range of funding opportunities.
- Collaboration Toolkit: Protecting Drinking Water Sources through Agricultural Conservation Practices
- Source Water Collaborative developed this toolkit in partnership with NRCS to provide simple steps to identify programs, provides sample talking points and agendas for meeting with NRCS staff, and offers additional resources and key partners and stakeholders.
Resources from Non-Profits, Agricultural Associations, & Academic Institutions
- Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities: A guide to Federal Programs for Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry, Entrepreneurship, Conservation, Food Systems and Community Development
- Produced in 2020 by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, National Center for Appropriate Technology, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) – This publication covers programs beyond conservation, we suggest starting on page 45 for details on agricultural conservation programs and funding– from NRCS, EPA, USFS, & FSA.
- Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs (Conservation and Environment chapter)
- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) – Guide contains program history and overviews, eligibility info, how to apply, and program resources.
- Farmers’ Guide to CART: NRCS’s New Conservation Planning, Resource Assessment, and Program Application Tool
- NSAC provides this introduction to NRCS’s Conservation Assessment and Ranking Tool.
- Closed Out: How U.S. Farmers are Denied Access to Conservation Programs
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy – Written by Michael Happ, Sept 2021. Details the gap between limited conservation program funding and demand/interest from agricultural producers, specifically with Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Provides recommended changes.
- Farm Bill Law Enterprise Background Library
- Farm Service Agency Loans: The Ins and Outs of Growing a Farm with Federal Loans
- ACEP-ALE Resources and Tools
- Produced by the Farmland Information Center and NRCS – Curated resources and tools to navigate ACEP-ALE for landowners, land trusts, and public farmland protection entities.
- ACEP-ALE Buy-Protect-Sell Transaction Fact Sheet
- Farmland Information Center – fact sheet on participating in ACEP-ALE using a buy-protect-sell transaction
- ACEP-ALE Action Center
- Land Trust Alliance – Provides history of ACEP-ALE program, introduction to NRCS, videos of how ACEP-ALE works, application guide, document library, and more.
- Mapping the money: An analysis of spending under the Conservation Stewardship Program
- Center for Rural Affairs – Anna Johnson (2021) provides analysis of CSP funding and demand.
- Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program
- NSAC (2020 edition) – Covers the steps involved in applying for and using CSP.
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 Partnership – This 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.
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