Farm bill consolidates conservation programs, expands energy funding
Conservation programs received a reduction of nearly $4 billion over the next 10 years in the Agricultural Act of 2014, better known as the farm bill.
The cost-cutting is due in large part to the consolidation of existing duplicative programs, taking the number from 23 in the last farm bill down to 13 in the new bill. The savings will also come from the reduction in the Conservation Reserve Program cap from 32 million acres to 24 million acres by 2017.
Collectively, conservation programs are projected to spend $57 billion over 10 years coming mainly in the most well-known programs: Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Overall, conservation programs receive around 6 percent of the total farm bill budget.
The Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program are now consolidated under a single umbrella to be called the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (or ACEP). The program provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands and their related benefits. Under the Agricultural Land Easements component, NRCS helps Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations protect working agricultural lands and limit non-agricultural uses of the land. Funding for this program is permanent.
Similar to the newly consolidated ACEP, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and Agriculture Water Enhancement Program are now consolidated into the Regional Conservation Partnership Initiative. This program is designed to coordinate conservation program assistance with partners to solve problems on a regional or watershed scale.
The new farm bill also re-links crop insurance premium subsidies to conservation compliance (conservation of highly erodible land and wetlands) for the first time since 1996.
The farm bill’s energy title will receive $879 million in new money over 10 years to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency programs on farms and in rural communities.
Around $500 million of the total energy title is allocated for the Rural Energy for America Program. REAP promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy and producer cost savings. REAP will also have a new permanent funding baseline, which means that if Congress fails to reauthorize the farm bill again in 5 years, the REAP program will still receive an allocation of $50 million a year, providing additional investment certainty.
Farm Bill Resources
AFBF creates new resources to help farmers understand the new farm bill
The American Farm Bureau Federation has produced a new series of videos and launched a website (http://goo.gl/ujjnny) to help farmers, landowners and other stakeholders better understand the provisions of the 2014 farm bill.