The 2014 Farm Bill passed in February, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is beginning to roll out new conservation programs and initiatives. The bill provides $28 billion over the next five years for conservation on private lands while streamlining several old programs and creating new ones like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP will provide $400 million in FY15 for multi-year partnership agreements with universities, organizations, corporations or local governments for local or regional conservation projects across the U.S. The RCPP encourages leveraging resources among local, state, federal and non-federal partners. The RCPP must commit 35 percent of its funding to projects in eight critical conservation areas, recalculated every five years, many of which are areas where Ducks Unlimited focuses its conservation efforts. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will select the RCPP’s projects based on applications submitted. The NRCS is accepting pre-proposal applications and for selected pre-proposals, will accept complete proposals in the fall. Landowners and producers may also apply for similar agreements through local USDA offices.
Changes are also underway to longstanding programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The 2014 Farm Bill will decrease the number of CRP acres eligible for enrollment from 27.5 million acres in 2014 to 24 million acres by 2017. This reduced cap is concerning for DU and its partners since CRP provides critical habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. CRP continuous sign-up, where all land that meets certain requirements is eligible for enrollment on a rolling basis began June 9. Despite anticipated CRP loss, we must also explore and develop new ways to incentivize and modernize habitat conservation during periods of high commodity prices.
As implementation occurs, DU continues to work with its partners and the USDA on developing new rules for other conservation provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill. This includes wetland conservation compliance and native prairie (Sodsaver) conservation provisions linked to federal crop insurance.
The Farm Bill provides the greatest impact to private lands conservation and is critical to fulfilling DU’s mission. We continue to work with our agricultural and agency partners to ensure these programs are successful.