Why Farm Bill Conservation Programs Matter (and What You Can Do About It)
OEFFA’s member-farmers work hard every day to practice good conservation on their land.
They plant cover crops to feed the soil and protect it from erosion. They create buffers of grass, trees, and shrubs, that draw carbon from the atmosphere and protect our waterways and find creative ways to improve habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.
Farmers are increasingly looking to expand their practices to include no- and reduced-tillage systems, rotational grazing, alley crops, and agroforestry.
All of these practices can help farmers produce food while also improving soil conditions to make their farms more resilient to shifting weather patterns.
These important practices, which benefit all of society, require time and financial resources. Hard-working farmers should not have to bear those costs alone.
Natural Resource Conservation Service Programs
At the height of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, Congress recognized that farmers needed support and resources to do the work of protecting and improving our soil. Toward this end, Congress created the Soil Conservation Service, which later was renamed to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). For decades, NRCS has played a critical role in supporting farmers to implement best practices.
These days, farmers are most familiar with two NCRS programs: the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP provides cost-share and technical assistance payments to farmers and ranchers to address natural resource concerns; including the Organic Initiative to support organic practice adoption and the High Tunnel Initiative for vegetable production. CSP rewards advanced and conservation systems with 5-year renewable payment contracts to implement conservation practices like rotations, cover cropping, and rotational grazing.
In addition to these better-known programs, a variety of other NRCS and USDA programs are targeted toward conservation, organic farming, access to healthy food, support for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and local and regional food systems. For a full summary of those programs, please see this chart from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Conservation Programs and the 2023 Farm Bill
Every 5 years, Congress outlines the scope of these programs in the Farm Bill. The next Farm Bill will be in 2023, which gives us the opportunity to expand and improve what is already being offered. To do that, we need to make sure that our legislators understand how important these conservation programs are.
Members of Congress need to hear how farmers in their communities are using these programs to create healthy soil, protect our waterways, increase resilience to drought and flooding, and remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. The best way to get that message across is for farmers to use these programs and to share their stories.
- If you aren’t currently making use of these programs, check out the deadlines and application process for 2022. Note that there is special consideration for organic farmers and historically underserved farmers (which include BIPOC farmers, veterans, and beginning farmers)
- If you are already using these programs, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story. Sharing your experience helps inspire others and allows Congress to better shape future programs to meet your needs.
- Even if you aren’t a farmer, your voice matters. By creating healthy soil and clean water, these programs benefit us all. Please contact one of our policy organizers at email@example.com to learn more about how advocate for these programs in the upcoming farm bill, through letter writing or calls or visits to your Member of Congress.