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2014 Farm Bill: A win-win for agriculture and wildlife

The importance of Farm Bill policy to Ducks Unlimited
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  • photo by Scott Stephens
  • A wetland in the Prairie Pothole Region, 2010
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Renewed Wetland Protections

Since the passage of the 1985 Farm Bill, federal agricultural policies have encouraged producers to cultivate the most productive lands and minimize impacts on wetlands and highly erodible soils in exchange for federal farm program benefits. The 2014 Farm Bill re-coupled conservation compliance to crop insurance, which was de-coupled in 1996. This policy of “conservation compliance” has helped provide an effective safety net for America’s farmers, ensure an abundant and safe food supply for consumers, and conserve crucial habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. Research has confirmed that this policy has been very effective in conserving wetlands on private lands over the past three decades. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 3 million acres of “farmed wetlands” (areas that can be cultivated and planted in dry years, but can’t be drained or filled by producers without losing farm program benefits) have been conserved nationwide thanks to this policy. In addition, conservation compliance has helped reduce soil erosion by approximately 295 million tons per year on more than 140 million acres of U.S. farmland.

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)

North Dakota lost more than 420,000 acres of CRP land in 2007.
North Dakota lost more than 420,000 acres of CRP land in 2007.

The continental United States has already lost more than 50 percent of its wetlands and continues to lose these habitats at an alarming rate. One of the most successful federal conservation programs has been the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), which provides a voluntary, non-regulatory, incentive-based way for private landowners, farmers, and ranchers to protect and restore wetlands on their property. In an effort to achieve budget savings and streamline existing programs, the 2014 Farm Bill consolidated several former conservation easement programs, like WRP, into the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Through ACEP, producers can enroll land in either an agricultural land or wetland conservation easement programs, which will receive more than $2 billion in federal funding over the next five years. These easements are highly popular with private landowners and are an effective tool for conserving key waterfowl habitats in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, Gulf Coast, Chesapeake Bay watershed, Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes, Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), Central Valley of California, and many other areas of the nation.

ACEP will be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is the federal government's largest wetlands restoration program. It is designed to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Native American tribes to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands that have been degraded or converted for agricultural use. ACEP provides an avenue for farmers and ranchers to remove marginal croplands from production. The program also provides societal benefits for improved water quality and quantity, reduced flood damage, and enhanced wildlife habitat. 

 

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