Farm Bill

The importance of Farm Bill policy to Ducks Unlimited

Founded by concerned waterfowlers in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has taken a continental, landscape approach to wetlands and waterfowl conservation. Guided by sound science and supported by legions of dedicated volunteers and members, DU has conserved more than 13 million acres of waterfowl habitat across North America.

DU's mission is to conserve, restore, and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America's waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people. The majority of the remaining wetlands in the United States are on private land, where a large majority of all waterfowl are raised. To further our mission, DU supports balanced agricultural policy that can help American farmers and ranchers to be more competitive and successful in fulfilling local, national, and global needs for food, fiber, and energy. In addition, DU supports agricultural policy that conserves soil, water, wetlands, grasslands, and forests upon which both people and wildlife depend. The Farm Bill is the most effective tool for conserving wildlife habitat on private land, and it's DU's objective that both waterfowl and their habitats benefit from this policy.

Latest Farm Bill Update: Congress has passed the 2014 Farm Bill, ending a three-year struggle. 

The bill includes the conservation and sporting community’s top priorities of re-coupling conservation compliance to crop insurance and a Sodsaver program affecting the top duck producing states of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Read more.

DU has a long history of working with ranchers, farmers, and other private landowners across the country to enhance and restore millions of acres of critical waterfowl and other wildlife habitat. The agricultural conservation programs that are authorized and funded through the Farm Bill are the backbone of DU's cooperative conservation work with our partners in agriculture. Thus, it's critical that programs like the Conservation Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program are adequately funded to sustain our traditions of waterfowl conservation and waterfowl hunting.

Learn about Farm Bill programs

Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)

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 is 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. WRP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is the federal government's largest wetlands restoration program. WRP 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. WRP has also provided an avenue for farmers and ranchers to remove marginal croplands from production. WRP also provides societal benefits such as improved water quality and quantity, reduced flood damage, and enhanced wildlife habitat. Producer demand for WRP currently outstrips available funding by at least a 3:1 margin. In fact, in November 2010, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the nation's farmers, ranchers, and Native American tribes enrolled more than 272,000 acres in the WRP during fiscal year 2010, which is the highest enrollment since the program began in 1990. There are currently more than 2.3 million acres enrolled in WRP nationwide; however, at the current rate of enrollment, WRP will exhaust its funding unless it's reauthorized and the acreage cap is increased in 2012.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

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.

Administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), CRP provides annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to producers who take marginal cropland out of production and restore it to wildlife habitat. CRP is a voluntary program available to agricultural producers, which helps them safeguard environmentally sensitive land. The 2008 Farm Bill lowered the maximum number of acres that could be enrolled in CRP by approximately 7 million acres, from 39 million to 32 million acres. More than 1.5 million acres have expired since 2007 in the Prairie Pothole Region, one of the most important breeding areas for waterfowl in North America. Most of the land enrolled in CRP on the prairies consists of large contiguous blocks of grassland interspersed with numerous wetlands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimates that in recent years CRP land in the Prairie Pothole Region has annually added more than 2 million ducks to the fall flight of waterfowl. Though it is apparent that CRP is a critical component of the landscape in the Prairie Pothole Region, this program is currently under threat. Therefore, it's vital that acres lost through recent CRP contract expirations are replaced and the current level of CRP acres in the Prairie Pothole Region is maintained or expanded in the future.

Grassland Reserve Program (GRP)

The GRP is a voluntary conservation program administered by the USDA's NRCS that helps landowners protect grazing uses and related conservation values by conserving grassland, including rangeland, pastureland, shrub land, and other landscapes. GRP provides support for working grazing operations, enhancement of plant and animal biodiversity, and protection of grassland under threat of conversion to other uses. Participating landowners voluntarily limit future development and cropping uses of the land while retaining the right to conduct common grazing practices and operations related to the production of forage and seeding, subject to certain restrictions during nesting seasons. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the amount of land that could be enrolled in GRP was increased by 1.22 million acres, and the USDA was authorized to enter into cooperative agreements with landowning entities to enable them to acquire easements. Unfortunately, the demand from farmers and ranchers in the Prairie Pothole Region far exceeds the program's available funding. Furthermore, GRP will also suffer the same fate as the Wetlands Reserve Program unless additional acres are authorized in the next Farm Bill.

Sodsaver

New sod-breaking, Hyde County, South Dakota, 2005.
New sod-breaking, Hyde County, South Dakota, 2005

The Prairie Pothole Region was once part of the largest grassland ecosystems in the world. However, the region has changed dramatically since the days of Lewis and Clark. After settlement, grasslands in the most productive portions of the PPR were converted to cropland to feed a growing world population. Today, grassland-dominated landscapes are largely confined to areas with poor soils, steep topography, and/or climatic conditions unsuitable for crop production.

A new wave of grassland conversion has occurred in the last decade, causing significant ecological and sociological impacts to the region. Current farm policy is fueling the destruction of this rare and important habitat. Congress must implement a policy in the 2012 Farm Bill to reverse this trend. Ducks Unlimited suggests calling this the "Sodsaver" provision.

Read more about Sodsaver »