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From conserving vast prairie and wetland reserves to helping urban farmers get access to hoop houses, the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill has many implications for Minnesotans, whether they live on a farm or not. Much of the title is devoted to programs that provide financial assistance to farmers wishing to conserve soil and water resources on their land, though that isn’t the whole story.

While conservation has been a part of Farm Bills since the 1938 Farm Bill, it wasn’t until 1977 that a title for conservation and rural development was written. By 1981, conservation received its own title, and it has been an essential part of the Farm Bill ever since. Today, the Title makes up roughly 7% of the total Farm Bill, with about $29.6 billion spent on conservation over the five years of the 2018 Farm Bill. That money is spent on programs that set sensitive land aside for nature, help farmers raise crops and livestock in more environmentally friendly ways, and address conservation in other ways.

The Conservation Title is important in Minnesota as soil erosion continues to be a problem, nitrate levels in groundwater become a public health issue, and climate change throws more uncertainty at farmers and eaters. Programs supported by the Title are incredibly popular with Minnesota farmers who line up by the thousands to apply for them. There is currently not enough funding to fund every applicant for these programs – one program in particular was only able to provide contracts to 8% of applicants in 2022, leaving lots of land not conserved, and farmers without the financial assistance they need.

Below are some voluntary farmer-focused programs within the Conservation Title:

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

EQIP provides financial assistance for farmers to address targeted resource concerns on farm. Popular uses of EQIP funds include helping to pay for planting cover crops, installing fence for grazing systems, and planting grassed waterways and edge of field buffers. Since 2002, 50% of EQIP funds have been required to be used for livestock operations, which can mean sustainable grazing systems, or, unfortunately, more industrial-scale manure storage practices for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). EQIP is a popular program in Minnesota. In 2022, 26.6% of applicants to EQIP in Minnesota were connected with a contract, or 903 out of 3,398.

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)

CSP pays for whole-farm conservation efforts through enhancements and bundles of practices meant to work together to target resource concerns. Examples could include addressing wildlife habitat, water quality and soil health. As of 2022, there have been more CSP contracts in Minnesota than in any other state. Partly because of the popularity of CSP in Minnesota, there is consistently not enough funding to provide contracts to all who want one. In 2022, only 8% of applicants to CSP in Minnesota were connected with a CSP contract, or 241 out of 3,001 who applied.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for CSP, take a look at the Farmers’ Guide to CSP from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

CRP is a program meant to retire certain lands from agricultural production for 15 years and planting native grasses or trees instead. CRP is targeted toward highly erodible lands. There are focused programs within CRP that target grasslands, watersheds and longer-term contracts (such as CLEAR30, which retires land for 30 years). There is also a program called the CRP Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP) that provides longer CRP contracts for landowners who agree to sell or rent their land to a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer at the end of the contract. Tracking the schedules of wildlife, particularly birds, at certain points in the year, farmers and landowners are allowed to hay and graze CRP lands. Unlike other programs on this list, CRP is administered by the Farm Services Agency (FSA).

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)

ACEP provides financial assistance for placing land in easement, either as working agricultural land or as wetland. This program can help with land access and reducing pressures on land to be developed for other purposes.

ACEP is generally more popular in other states — there is no data on ACEP enrollment in Minnesota for FY23.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)

RCPP focuses on large-scale conservation projects led by organizations outside of NRCS. Regional priority resource concerns can be addressed, such as improving watershed health by enrolling many parcels of land. RCPP can work in concert with other conservation programs such as EQIP and CSP for maximum conservation benefit.

Other programs

Other programs that are funded through the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill include Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) and Conservation Compliance. CIGs are not addictive nicotine products, but rather are grants designed to help farmers test out different practices or methods on their farm with conservation in mind. Conservation Compliance involves verifying that farmers are using “best farming practices” in order to be eligible for crop insurance.

How can you help make a better conservation title?

If you are a Minnesotan who cares about climate resilience, soil and water conservation, and providing financial help to farmers who care for their land, advocating for a strong Conservation Title in the Farm Bill is a great way to meet those goals. Both of Minnesota’s senators, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Tina Smith, are on the Senate Agriculture Committee and are influential voices in the drafting of the Farm Bill. Likewise, U.S. Representatives Angie Craig and Brad Finstad are both members of the House Agriculture Committee and have a hand in drafting that chamber’s Farm Bill. Including bills such as the Agriculture Resilience Act and the EQIP Improvement Act into the Farm Bill would improve the Conservation Title and ensure it works for Minnesota’s land, water, farmers, and eaters for years to come. You can call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to connect with lawmakers’ offices or email them through the channels outlined on their websites.


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