Selected Conservation Proposals for the Next Farm Bill
CRS Report for Congress
Selected Conservation Proposals
for the Next Farm Bill
September 10, 2001
Jeffrey A. Zinn
Senior Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Selected Conservation Proposals
for the Next Farm Bill
Conservation is expected to be a major component of the next generation of farm
policy which the 107th Congress is formulating, according to leaders of the agriculture
committees in both Chambers and many others involved in agricultural policy. The
House Agriculture Committee reported its version of a new omnibus farm bill (H.R.
2646) on August 2, 2001, and it includes numerous conservation proposals. The
Senate Agriculture Committee is working to develop a bill in which conservation will
play a prominent role, according to Chairman Harkin.
Major questions being debated about conservation revolve around: (1) at what
level should overall funding be set; (2) how should funding be distributed among
existing and proposed new programs and activities; (3) should existing programs be
amended, and if so, how; (4) what, if any, new programs are needed; (5) how should
funding be divided between programs for land retirement and for working lands; and
(6) should Congress provide new or additional direction to the implementing
agencies? Answers to these questions have been offered in extensive testimony at
hearings, and are reflected in the policy options that Congress is considering.
This report compares, by program, conservation proposals in four bills with
current law. The presentation for each existing program includes a brief program
description, an overview of accomplishments, a summary of some of the issues that
have been identified, and a table or narrative comparing current law with proposals
in each bill. While these bills do not represent all of the bills with conservation
provisions that have been introduced, they reflect most of the range of policy
approaches currently being considered. The four bills are:
!H.R. 2646, the farm bill reported by the House Agriculture Committee (House
Report 107-191 parts I and II);
!H.R. 2375, a set of alternative conservation proposals introduced by
Representative Kind and favored by many environmentalists;
!S. 1267, a set of proposals introduced by Senator Crapo and generally favored
by the agriculture community; and
!S. 1326, a set of proposals introduced by Senator Lugar.
In addition, Chairman Harkin’s Conservation Security Act (S. 932/H.R. 1949),
which proposes a new “green payments” program, is briefly summarized in the cross-
cutting issues section of this report because he has indicated that it will be a part of
the Senate Agriculture Committee’s farm bill proposal. Since this bill does not
include proposals for any of the existing programs, it is not mentioned elsewhere in
This report will be updated as new bills are introduced or existing bills are
amended. Specifically, it will be updated when the Senate Agriculture Committee’s
farm bill legislation is introduced, and again when it is reported.
Introduction ................................................... 1
Overview of the Conservation Effort.................................2
Cross-Cutting Issues .............................................3
International Trade Obligations.................................3
Funding for Conservation .....................................4
Demand for Conservation Programs and Services...................5
Complexities in Program Administration..........................5
Expanding Conservation Mission................................5
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)............................7
Issues ................................................. 9
Conservation Compliance ....................................14
Issues ................................................ 14
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).................15
Issues ................................................ 16
Farmland Protection Program (FPP)............................21
Issues ................................................ 21
Forestry Incentives Program (FIP)..............................23
Issues ................................................ 24
Resource Conservation and Development Program(RC&D)...........24
Issues ................................................ 25
Comparison of Proposed Provisions.........................25
Issues ................................................ 26
Comparison of Proposed Provisions.........................27
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).............................27
Issues ................................................ 27
Issues ................................................ 31
Other Amendments to Existing Programs............................33
Grazing Lands Conservation..................................35
Conservation Practice Standards ..............................35
Evaluation and Monitoring....................................35
Program Consolidation and Administration.......................36
Program Extensions and Deletions..............................36
The Environmental Conservation Acreage Reserve Program (ECARP)..36
New Program Proposals .........................................37
WRP Enhancement Program..................................39
Corridor Demonstration Projects...............................39
Privacy .................................................. 39
Farmland Stewardship Program................................40
List of Tables
Table 1. Comparison of Proposed CRP Provisions .....................12
Table 2. Comparison of Proposed Compliance Provisions................15
Table 3. Comparison of Proposed EQIP Provisions....................18
Table 4. Comparison of Proposed FPP Provisions......................22
Table 5. Comparison of Proposed FIP Provisions......................24
Table 6. Comparison of Proposed WRP Provisions.....................29
Table 7. Comparison of Proposed WHIP Provisions....................32
Table 8. Comparison of Proposed Grasslands Reserve Program...........38
Selected Conservation Proposals
for the Next Farm Bill
Leaders on both agriculture committees have stated that conservation will be an
important part of the next farm bill. House Agriculture Committee leaders have been pressing
to move the farm bill through the legislative process rapidly because of concerns that lower
projections of the budget surplus might affect future allocations to agriculture. The House
Agriculture Committee reported its version of the farm bill (H.R. 2646, H. Rept. 107-191,
pt. 1 and pt. 2) on August 2, 2001. The committee drew on conservation testimony offered
by many witnesses at numerous hearings. The process for gathering input has been much the
same in the Senate, but the committee has not yet completed a farm bill proposal. Progress
in the Senate may have been slowed by changes in party control, although conservation was
a focus of hearings both before and after the Democratic Party take-over.
Agricultural conservation has played an increasingly important role in farm policy during
the past two decades. This importance can be measured in many ways: the growing
proliferation of conservation programs and overall federal funding for conservation; the
willingness to use mandatory funding, which bypasses the annual appropriations process, for
most conservation spending; and the expansion of the conservation mission from programs
that largely focus on managing natural resources to enhance farm production to programs that
deal with off-farm impacts of farming practices and environmental topics that are new to
This changing role can be seen by comparing conservation elements of the most recent
three farm bills, enacted in 1985, 1990, and 1996. Prior to the 1985 farm bill, almost all
conservation programs supported either the goal of reducing soil erosion or the goal of
providing water at a rate and pattern that would enhance crop production. These programs
were designed to improve conditions on the farm and most did not address effects of
agricultural practices on resources or the environment beyond the farm fence line. The 1985
farm bill (P.L. 99-198) expanded conservation efforts by enacting the Conservation Reserve
Program (CRP) and the three compliance programs (Conservation Compliance, Sodbuster,
and Swampbuster).1 Except for Swampbuster, these programs were all concerned with
reducing soil erosion, although the CRP included language that gave the Department of
Agriculture (USDA) the option of enrolling lands that provided off-farm environmental
benefits (an option that initially it choose to neglect).
The 1990 farm bill (P.L. 101-624) added little to erosion control efforts. By 1990,
however, the Department had expanded the CRP to include other conservation objectives
in addition to reducing soil erosion and was starting to use an Environmental Benefits Index
(EBI) to compare bids by assigning values to each of these objectives. The 1990 farm bill
1 Descriptions of each program mentioned in this introductory section that is being actively
implemented appear later in the report.
endorsed the EBI and made other changes to the CRP. It also created new programs,
including the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), the Water Quality Incentives Program (a
cost sharing program), the Environmental Easement Program, and a new pesticides record
keeping program. It also called on USDA to create a new Office on Environmental Quality,
and amended the 1981 farmland protection program, as well as water quality research and
education programs. The overall conservation theme in this law was water, but it also greatly
expanded the conservation mission and authorized the use of easements.
The 1996 farm bill (P.L. 104-127) again expanded the conservation mission, adding
numerous programs. These included the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP),
the Farmland Protection Program (FPP), and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program
(WHIP). In addition, the compliance programs were made more producer-friendly, and
perhaps of greatest interest to the agriculture community, the CRP was reauthorized. Other
provisions dealt with assigning responsibilities for air quality concerns in USDA to the
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and providing a new option combining
conservation and commodity payments. The overall conservation theme was wildlife and
habitat protection, but the most significant change may have been to make a majority of the
conservation funding mandatory using the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which
excludes it from the annual appropriations process; previously, funding for all conservation
programs had been discretionary, and required an annual appropriation.
Thus far, the current farm bill debate has differed from the past three in at least two
major ways. First, the debate over this bill has been more about how much money will be
allocated to agriculture, and how much of that allocation will be assigned to conservation.
In earlier farm bills, funding was an important constraint because of federal budget deficits.
But it is now a larger driving force both because the FY2002 budget agreement allocated the
surplus projected at that time and gave a significant portion to agriculture over the next
decade, and because that surplus is now forecast to decline for the next few years. Second,
while the earlier farm bill debates centered on what new programs and policies are needed for
conservation, this debate thus far has given more attention to how to make existing programs
more effective either by providing more funding or by amending them. The House
Agriculture Committee emphasized this difference from earlier farm bill conservation titles
in a summary of its actions on conservation.
Overview of the Conservation Effort
USDA provides conservation assistance through many agencies, but primarily through
the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
The programs are almost all voluntary, and participation is attracted by providing incentives
in the forms of financial assistance and technical assistance, and supported by education and
basic and applied research. In recent years, funding for all of these programs has averaged
more than $3 billion per year.
The overall conservation effort encompasses about 30 programs and activities, according
to USDA’s budget summary, but the total number depends on how one counts them and
which ones are included. If one views this overall effort as a piece of fabric, with each of the
woven threads representing a program or activity, then the fabric includes other threads as
well. They consist of:
!Very small programs, as measured by funding (the NRCS Snow Survey and Plant
Material Centers are examples);
!Scientific or technical support programs (the Soil Survey and the Natural Resources
Inventory are examples);
!Programs that are not being implemented (the Conservation Farm Option, the Natural
Resources Conservation Foundation, and the Flood Risk Reduction Program, all
enacted in the 1996 farm bill, are examples);
!Programs that are implemented only under unpredictable circumstances (the
Emergency Conservation Program and the Emergency Watershed Program are
!Activities that support many other programs (Conservation Technical Assistance and
the State Technical Committees are examples); and
!Programs that are agency or department initiatives rather than legislated mandates (the
National Conservation Buffer Initiative and the Unified National Strategy for Animal
Feeding Operations are examples).
This report discusses only those programs that are being addressed in one or more of the
four farm bill proposals being compared; if none of these bills would amend a program, it is
not included. If only one bill would amend a program, it is presented in narrative, and if more
than one bill would amend it, the proposals are presented in a table. However, some of these
other threads are very important to the overall conservation effort.
Certain topics are being raised in discussions of agricultural conservation activities that
transcend individual conservation programs. Some of these topics have been raised recently,
while others have been discussed for many years. Some of these topics are being raised by
those who believe that lack of attention to them is increasingly constraining the conservation
effort. The topics are discussed below rather than being repeated for each program. They
include: compatibility with international trade obligations; funding for conservation; demand
for conservation programs and services; complexities in program administration; effects of
the expanding conservation mission; agency staffing; and green payments as an alternative
International Trade Obligations
The multilateral Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (URAA) poses a constraint
on U.S. farm assistance by limiting, to no more than $19.1 billion per year, the cost of
domestic farm supports most likely to distort production and trade. (Other countries have
their own, different limits.) The URAA spells out rules for determining whether a policy is
market-distorting and thus must be counted toward the $19.1 billion limit, or whether it can
be considered exempt from the annual spending calculation. The United States and other
countries use these guidelines to make the cost calculations, which in turn are reported on an
annual basis to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Conservation and environmental programs are viewed as less likely to distort production
and trade than some other types of government support for production agriculture. Thus,
they may not have to be counted toward the $19.1 billion limit. Some environmental
organizations have seized upon this argument to build support for moving money from
commodity price support into conservation and environmental activities. However, the
URAA does contain stipulations that must be met in order for a conservation or
environmental program to be exempt.
One stipulation is that payments under environmental programs must be based on
eligibility determined “as part of a clearly-defined government or conservation program and
dependent on the fulfillment of specific conditions under the government program, including
conditions related to production methods or inputs.” Also, the amount of the payment “shall
be limited to the extra costs or loss of income involved in complying with the government
program.” Most of the conservation programs, including the EQIP, WRP, FPP, and
Conservation Technical Assistance programs, have been reported as exempt by the
Administration under this stipulation.
The second stipulation is that structural adjustment assistance provided through resource
retirement programs could be exempted, so long as: (a) payment eligibility is “determined by
reference to clearly defined criteria...designed to remove land or other resources, including
livestock, from marketable agricultural production”; (b) payments on retired land are for a
minimum of 3 years (livestock must be permanently disposed of); (c) payments cannot
“require or specify any alternative use for such land or other resources which involves the
production of marketable agricultural products”; and (d) payments cannot be related to either
the type or quantity of production or to prices applying to production undertaken using the
land or other resources remaining in production.2 The CRP has been reported as exempt by
the Administration under this stipulation.
Funding for Conservation
Total federal funding for conservation has almost tripled over the past 15 years.
According to data compiled by USDA, funding for all conservation activities in five spending
categories totaled just over $1 billion in FY1985, and had grown to as much as $3.6 billion
in FY1998.3 Almost all that growth has been in rental and easement programs, one of five
categories, which had its funding increased from $8 million to more than $1.8 billion over this
time period. Actual funding for three of the other four categories – technical assistance, cost
sharing, and data and research – grew by 50% to almost 100% over this time period, while
funding for public works programs has risen and fallen from year to year, but shown little
discernable growth. These funding trends have caused a recurring shortfall in the resources
needed to operate the suite of conservation programs, according to NRCS representatives.
For example, funding for technical assistance needed to support the rental and easement
programs has required supplemental appropriations in recent years, and a lack of funding in
2 URAA, Annex 2: Domestic Support: the Basis for Exemption from the Reduction
Commitments. For more information see CRS Report RL30612, Farm Support Programs
and World Trade Commitments.
3 The budget data is taken from tables prepared by USDA’s Office of Budget and Program
Analysis, which places all conservation programs and activities in five categories: (1)
technical assistance, education, and administration; (2) cost-sharing; (3) public works
programs; (4) rental and easement payments; and (5) data and research.
Demand for Conservation Programs and Services
Demand for most conservation programs has greatly exceeded available funds in recent
years. In response to an inquiry from Senator Harkin at a conservation hearing earlier this
year, NRCS supplied data from recent years for several conservation programs that showed
the extent of this disparity. For example, these data show that the EQIP program spent $597
million to implement almost 277,000 applications between FY1997 and FY2000, leaving
unserved almost 197,000 applications that would have cost $1.378 billion. (The data do not
indicate how many of the unserved applications might have been rejected.)
Changes in emphasis or activities most likely would not fully address this problem. If
NRCS were asked to commit more resources to one program, it would likely mean less could
be accomplished in other programs. NRCS has developed a workload analysis system in
recent years to track how staff distribute their time among the activities of the agency. This
system has been used to forecast how long it might take to meet anticipated demands in the
future, given current work demands, such as providing the technical assistance that producers
are likely to need to meet new water quality requirements on farms with larger animal
Complexities in Program Administration
Some landowners have complained that complicated enrollment procedures and
inconsistent or difficult administrative procedures have dampened their interest in
participating in conservation programs. There are differing opinions as to whether these
complications are excessive, whether the problems are overstated, and whether the current
procedures actually drive away potential participants. However, there has been no
comprehensive examination of these complaints, and thus, it is impossible to determine
whether they add up to significant problems, or represent isolated incidents in programs that
have thousands of participants. Suggested solutions usually center on combining or
coordinating program delivery, and USDA has made some administrative adjustments.
Expanding Conservation Mission
The conservation mission has grown a great deal since 1985, and it now consists of many
more subjects which are addressed through new, mostly small, programs. It has expanded
from a focus on managing lands that are producing food and fiber to include land retirement,
and from a focus on on-farm challenges to include environmental concerns that arise beyond
the fence line because of farming activities. Expansion of the mission since 1985 has required
USDA agencies, especially NRCS, to add significant capability in wetland science, water
quality, biology, archeology, and animal agriculture, among other topics. It has also meant
that many additional producers participate in these programs, especially the compliance
programs enacted in 1985, placing further demands on USDA agencies. The laws creating
these programs require little coordination. Most of the programs are implemented at the scale
of individual property owners, and the sheer number of programs may contribute to the
frustrations noted above. Staff at the field level are now dealing with far more landowners.
This, it is contended, has lessened their ability to work one-on-one with each interested
person, which had been a hallmark of the conservation effort.
While the mission of conservation has expanded rapidly, the human resources at USDA,
especially the NRCS, have not expanded. Rather, at NRCS, the total agency capacity has
shrunk from more than 13,600 staff years in FY1985 to less than 11,500 in FY2000.
Moreover, many of the specialists who have been hired to provide the new expertises that the
expanded mission requires have not followed the traditional career path in NRCS, which
starts in a district office working directly with individual landowners. Employees who lack
that experience are less knowledgeable about how conservation is provided to landowners.
Another important effect of limited staffing in NRCS (and other agencies administering
conservation programs) is that they have been able to devote few resources to evaluating
program accomplishments in recent years, thus limiting the amount of information about the
accomplishments and limitations of these programs. These constraints have been partially
offset by two other trends. First, states and localities are committing additional resources for
conservation; funding from these sources for conservation districts has grown from about
$275 million in FY1986 to more than $1 billion in FY2000, according to NRCS. Second, the
expanded use of computers has been credited with contributing to increased efficiencies for
many activities during the past few years.
The concept of green payments – paying producers to perform environmental services
or provide environmental benefits from their production activities – is receiving wide spread4
attention as a major new direction for conservation in this farm bill. Some existing programs,
such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Conservation Reserve
Program (CRP), meet this general definition, but supporters of the green payment concept
describe at least two major differences from any current programs. One difference is that,
with the exception EQIP, all existing green payment programs pay producers to perform these
services by retiring land from production. Proponents of green payments are seeking a
program that pays producers to provide services on land that remains in production. Second,
with the exception of CRP, all these programs have limited funding. Proponents of green
payments are seeking a program with much larger total funding that can be used by many
One bill that would meet these two qualifications is S. 932/H.R. 1949, the Conservation
Security Act (CSA), which was developed and sponsored by Chairman Harkin. (It is
discussed here since the bill would not amend any existing conservation programs.) Senator
Harkin has stated that he hopes to make this proposal a key element in the Senate version of
a farm bill conservation title. The CSA was developed over more than 2 years and working
with an extremely wide range of interests. It would establish 3 tiers of conservation practices,
and provide mandatory payments through the CCC for each tier. All farmers would be
eligible to participate if they submit a plan that is approved and enter into a contract for all
land that is part of the agricultural operation. Ineligible lands would include full fields
enrolled in the CRP, land enrolled in the WRP, and land brought into production after the
4 For an overview of the concept of green payments, and how it fits within the array of
current conservation programs, see a recent Economic Reserve Service report, Agri-
Environmental Policy at the Crossroads: Guideposts on a Changing Landscape,
Agricultural Economic Report 794, January 2001.
date of enactment. Contracts would be renewable, and could be adjusted for inflation. The
program would provide payments, technical assistance, education, and outreach to
participants. It would also include evaluation and monitoring components. The legislation
does not set any limit on the total to be spent, either annually or over the life of the program.
This legislation would be placed in current farm legislation in a way that would allow program
efforts to be concentrated in priority areas set by the Secretary. The tiers, and payment levels
are described below:
!Tier 1 practices would include numerous listed management activities, such as nutrient
or water quality management, that would be specified in a 5 year contract and apply
to either part of or the entire agricultural operation. Participants would receive an
advance payment of the greater of $1,000 or 20% of the contract value and annual
payments of up to $20,000 for the life of the contract.
!Tier 2 practices would include all tier 1 practices plus one or more of the following:
resource conserving crop rotations; controlled rotational grazing; land conversion;
partial field conservation practices; prairie; habitat; or wetland protection and
restoration; and agroforestry practices. Practices would be specified in a contract of
5 to 10 years that would address priority resource concerns on the total agricultural
operation. Participants would receive an advance payment of the greater of $2,000 or
20% of the contract value and annual payments of up to $35,000 for the life of the
!Tier 3 practices would include all tiers 1 and 2 practices and any others needed to
address all the resource concerns on the entire agricultural operation that are needed
to address the long term sustainability of the resource base. Practices would be
specified in a contract of 5 to 10 years that address priority resource concerns on the
total agricultural operation. Participants would receive an advance payment of the
greater of $3,000 or 20% of the contract value and annual payments of up to $50,000
for the life of the contract.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
Program Description. The CRP was enacted in the 1985 farm bill, and most
recently amended in the 1996 farm bill.5 It is administered by the FSA and funded as a
mandatory program through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). The current
program goal is to retire up to 36.4 million acres of environmentally sensitive and highly
erodible crop land (and some marginal pasture lands) under multi year contracts. At the start
of FY2001, FSA reported that 31.4 million acres were enrolled.6 Almost all of the contracts
are for 10 years. Enrollment is limited to 25% of the crop land in a county, a ceiling that has
been reached by about 135 counties concentrated in states with the most overall enrollment.
5 The CRP is placed in subchapter B of Chapter 1 (Environmental Conservation Acreage
Reserve Program), and is in §1231-§1236 of the 1985 farm bill (16 U.S.C. 3831-3836).
6 Enrolled lands are concentrated in the High Plains. States with the most enrolled land at the
start of FY2001 included Texas (4.1 million acres (an area a little smaller than New Jersey)),
Montana (3.5 million acres), and North Dakota (3.3 million acres). Kansas and Colorado
both have more than 2 million acres enrolled.
CRP is the most expensive conservation program, having totaled about half of all spending
on conservation in recent years. In addition to the conservation benefits, other benefits that
have been attributed to it include helping to stabilize land prices, enhancing farmer income,
and reducing excess production.
CRP enrolls lands through several mechanisms. A large majority of the total entered the
program through open enrollment, which has usually been offered once a year, during7
specified time periods using a nationwide competitive bidding process. For open enrollment,
the FSA compares all the bids using an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI), which awards
points under seven factors for each bid. The EBI awards points for wildlife (up to 100
points), water quality (up to 100), erosion control (up to 100), enduring benefits beyond the
life of the contract (up to 50), air quality (up to 35 points), located in priority areas (up to
25), and cost (points determined at each signup). FSA has adjusted the index from signup to
signup. Enrolled land is usually an entire field or larger.
Much of the land that is enrolled is under a second contract, since most of the initial
contracts were signed in the late 1980s and ended in the late 1990s. Landowners who wish
to reenroll their land get no priority over other bidders, although they do get some points in
the EBI if they need no financial assistance to establish the required conservation plantings.
(If they were in the program, these plantings should already be in place.)
Farmers can enter the program through three alternatives to open enrollment. First, FSA
took administrative action in 1997 to allow enrollment at any time, called continuous
enrollment, for smaller parcels of lands within fields that provide especially high
environmental benefits, such as riparian buffers (narrow strips of vegetated land adjacent to
water bodies), grassed waterways, or shelter belts. Incentive payments were added in April
2000 to attract participation. Second, FSA implemented the Conservation Reserve
Enhancement Program (CREP) in 1997 to allow states to contribute at least 20% of the cost,
to enroll up to 100,000 acres in areas that states designate as especially high priorities.
USDA has approved 16 state CREPs, and several other proposals are pending. Third,
provisions in the FY2001 agriculture appropriations legislation (P.L. 106-387) require the
Department to implement a program to enroll 500,000 acres of wetlands and buffers in 6
upper Midwestern states. The Department announced in 1997 that it was holding back 4
million acres to enroll under these options, making the effective ceiling under open enrollment
Almost 1.6 million acres have been enrolled under these three alternatives through July
2001, including almost 190,000 acres in the 16 approved CREPs. The conservation practice
installed under these alternatives that has received the most attention is buffer strips, since
NRCS started a “buffer initiative” in 1997 to enroll 2 million miles of riparian buffers and
filter strips by 2002; it estimates that more than 600,000 miles have been enrolled. Enrollment
under the farmable wetlands pilot program just started, and no results are available.
7 There was no open enrollment in FY2001, and the Department allowed expiring CRP
contracts to be extended for one year. FSA may have adopted this approach both because
very few contracts end in FY2001 and because the Department plans to enroll much of the
acreage that remains under that ceiling using other mechanisms.
Program Accomplishments. The most recent open enrollment, completed in
February 2000, accepted 2.5 million acres of the 3.5 million acres that were offered. Program
benefits, measured in either the type of land being enrolled or the practices to be installed, are
documented by FSA at the time of enrollment. These data also measure what the additions
(and expiring contracts) mean for cumulative conservation benefits. For example, FSA
identified the following benefits from the February 2000 enrollment: almost 1.3 million acres
of highly erodible land; almost 275,000 acres to be planted to trees; over 150,000 acres of
wetlands and protective upland areas; and almost 123,000 acres to be restored to rare and
The minimum acceptable EBI for this enrollment was 246, which was nearly identical
to the previous two open signups. If the cost factor is subtracted from the EBI, the total
value of the other 6 factors has continued to rise with each enrollment, indicating that the
program’s environmental benefits are growing. The benefits of enrolling land under the three
alternative methods, which do not use the EBI, has not been documented by FSA. Also,
FSA does not monitor what the program actually accomplishes while the land is enrolled, so
there are little hard data beyond the general conclusion that resource conditions have
benefitted from this program, and these benefits can be significant.8 Also, there is little
information on what happens to land or resources after the contract ends. The results are
probably mixed, as some land is returned to production, some land is reenrolled, and some
land lies idle.
Issues. Issues have been raised about adjusting the overall objectives of the program,
the adequacy of the current level of erosion control, retaining long-term benefits from the
program, the net amount of crop land that is in production, the cost of the program, the
enrollment ceiling, and options to open enrollment.
Overall Objectives. The CRP measures multiple environmental objectives for each
bid using the EBI. Whether these are appropriate objectives and how to weigh each of them
generates debate. There are questions about whether the “correct” land is being enrolled and
about the geographic distribution of the enrolled land. Any change in the EBI would lead to
a different mix of land being enrolled. Questions include: should any of the current 7 EBI
factors be dropped, or others added; should the weighting of any of these factors be changed;
and should more land under the ceiling be set aside to be enrolled under the alternative
methods, such as CREPs?
Erosion Control. A well-documented benefit of the CRP has been erosion reduction.
As noted above, erosion rates have dropped by 1 billion tons per year since the CRP (and
conservation compliance programs) were implemented. However, the erosion rate has
leveled off at 2.2 billion tons for the past several years, and, over the long term, this rate still
exceeds the rate at which soil productivity can be maintained in some areas. It is unclear
whether this lower rate is a sufficient reduction to maintain a long-term production capability.
Questions include: what is a desirable goal for a national level; if the current level is above
8 The one exception, where good data are available, is reduction in soil erosion rates. NRCS
collects these data in its Natural Resource Inventory, and it shows that overall soil erosion has
dropped from 3.2 billion tons per year before CRP (and the compliance programs) were
enacted to 2.2 billion tons per year in 1997.
that, what policy changes are needed to further lower the overall rate and what role should
the CRP play in these policies; and at what scale – field, farm, county, state, or national –
should additional erosion reduction needs be addressed?
Long-Term Benefits. Environmental values are protected while land is enrolled in
the CRP. However, the enduring nature of this protection has been questioned by the General
Accounting Office (GAO) and others since landowners are under no obligation to protect
these values after the payments stop, except that conservation compliance requires that highly
erodible lands returned to production must follow an approved conservation plan within 2
years of leaving the CRP. Under current policies, the only way to ensure that these benefits
will be retained is to reenroll the land the year that the contract expires. Questions include:
what portion of the land that was in the CRP is being returned to production; what
environmental and other benefits are being lost on land that is returned to production; should
other mechanisms to protect some of these benefits be considered and under what
circumstances; and can long-term or permanent easements play a role in protecting them?
Actual Acreage Reduction. There are reports that CRP is not completely
successful at reducing crop acreage (and therefore production). Some enrolled acres have
been replaced by other land that is brought into production. This “slippage”, while widely
reported, has never been documented. Questions include: exactly how widespread is
slippage; does it occur more in some regions or for some crops than others; and are there
either more severe environmental problems or a different mix of problems from the new crop
lands than from lands enrolled in the CRP?
Cost. The CRP is the most expensive conservation program. The farm community
supports it, in part, because of the amount of money it transfers to farmers for providing
environmental benefits. Questions include: is the CRP sustainable indefinitely at the
enrollment size and annual costs of today; are there less expensive alternatives to multi-year
rental agreements that could provide similar or more enduring environmental benefits; and are
there ways to retain the benefits created after contracts expire?
Total Enrollment Levels. The current enrollment ceiling of 36.4 million acres was
the peak actual enrollment (in 1993). It was not selected based on an assessment of demand
or need. Many witnesses at farm bill hearings called for expanding the scope of the program,
citing that demand has exceeded available space in recent general enrollments, that chronic
low commodity prices could be addressed at the margin by taking more land out of
production, that CRP could help additional landowners address environmental problems, that
the program could provide additional benefits, and that it could address emerging
environmental challenges. Questions include: what would be the cost of increasing the size
of the program; how might enrollment patterns change with a larger program and how might
altered patterns affect commodity production: how might these changes affect environmental
benefits; and could the program be enlarged by moving one or more of the alternative
enrollment options outside the overall enrollment ceiling?
Options to Open Enrollment. Many of the same issues apply to the three
alternative enrollment options. Participation rates have been uneven, suggesting that these
options are being more aggressively marketed in some states. Overall, less land has been
enrolled than supporters had hoped for. Also, the involvement of states in the CREP raises
additional questions about coordination. Questions include: Has the Department offered
enough incentives to attract desired enrollment levels; can some states have multiple CREPs
before all states that want them have one CREP; should states be allowed to enroll more then
100,000 acres in a CREP under some circumstances; is the current state requirement for
CREPs appropriate; and for the continuous enrollment, does the location of participation land
Table 1. Comparison of Proposed CRP Provisions
Current LawH.R. 2646H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
§1231(a) authorizes program§231(a) authorizes program§304(a) authorizes the program through§201 authorizes the§102(a) authorizes the
through FY2002, and the through FY2011; §231(b)FY2008.program through FY2011.program through
purposes are to conserve andadds wildlife resources to theFY2011.
improve soil and waterprogram purposes.
§1231(d) authorizes§232(b) raises ceiling to 39.2§304(a) raises ceiling to 45 million acres.§203 raises ceiling to 40No provisions.
enrollment ceiling at 36.4million acres. §265(a) givesmillion acres.
million acres. §1243(b)the Sec. flexibility to exceed
describes the countythe enrollment limit when it
enrollment limit for CRP.would not adversely affect the
§1231(h), enacted in §1102 of§232(d) adds a new §1231(i)§304 (b) adds language to §1231(d) to§203 requires 2.5 million§102(b) requires that at
the FY2001 Agriculturethat requires balance betweenenroll 9 million acres of environmentallyacres be enrolled inleast 4 million acres be
iki/CRS-RL31131Appropriations (P.L. 106-soil erosion, water quality,sensitive lands, including 5 million acresconservation buffers andenrolled in conservation
g/w387), creates a 500,000 acreand wildlife habitat whenof buffers. §304(c) amends §1231(e) to1.1 million acres bebuffers or in a CREP.
s.orwetland pilot program. reviewing bids, withuse permanent easements to enroll up to 3enrolled through the§102 (c) same as §204 of
leak§1231(e) establishes the lengthof contracts.implementing regulations tobe issued within 180 days ofmillion acres (including 1 million acres inisolated wetlands), and encourages usingCREP. §204 adds a newsubsection allowing theS. 1267, except thatcontracts would be
://wikienactment.qualified state and local government andnon profits. Makes fruits, vegetables, sodSec. to automaticallyextend contracts for landextended for 15 yearswith the rental payment
httpand specialty crops eligible for CREP andplanted to hardwood treesreduced by 50% during
continuous enrollment programs.for up to 10 years.the extension period.
§1231(f) discusses§232 deletes the priority areaNo provisions.No provisions.No provisions.
conservation priority areas.language, and makes all land
already enrolled eligible to
reenroll. H. Rept. 107-191
states the Sec. is to focus on
priority issues rather than
geographic (priority) areas.
§1231(b) defines eligible§ 232(a) makes land that§304(d) amends §1231(b)(3) to make §202 replaces “cropland”No provisions.
lands. §1231(b)(3) makeswould contribute to waterpasture, range, and hay land eligible thatwith “land”.
certain marginal pasturelandconservation eligible, andmust be restored to wetland and managed
planted to trees eligible.clarifies that marginalto prohibit livestock access; authorizes
pastureland must contributeenrollment of up to an additional 3 million
to improving water quality toacres of grassland and range land under 5
be eligible. specified criteria.
Current LawH.R. 2646H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
§1232(a) (7) sets limits on§233 amends §1232(a) to No provisions.§205 replaces existing§102(d) permits haying
commercial uses of lands inallow certain economic usesgrazing limits inand grazing to maintain
the CRP §1232(c) sets a goalof enrolled lands (with§1232(a)(7)(A) to allowbuffers and land enrolled
of planting 1/8 of the landadjusted payments), andhaying and grazing whileunder a CREP.
enrolled each year to trees orretains cover crops on landsprotecting the quality of
habitat. §1232(d) allows alley-entering the CRP. It deletesthe cover.
cropping.subsections c and d.
§1233(3) requires the Sec. to§234 deletes §1233(3).No provisions.No provisions.No provisions.
provide technical assistance.§265(e) allows producers to
use approved third parties
rather than NRCS staff for
§1234(c)(3) requires the Sec.§ 235 deletes §1234(c)(3).§304(e) adds subsections to allowNo provisions.No provisions.
to consider different criteria incontinuous enrollment of small wetlands,
various regions whenbuffer strips, contour buffer strips, and
iki/CRS-RL31131accepting bids.irrigated lands at their adjusted values.§304(f) exempts the continuous enrollment
g/wand CREP from the CRP payment limit.
leak§1235(a) establishes eligibility§236 allows only land thatNo provisions.No provisions.No provisions.
for land acquired within a yearwas acquired by will or
://wikiof entering into a contract. foreclosure within the past
httpyear to be eligible, and adds anew subsection (f) requiring
the crop base be restored.
§1241(a) provides mandatory§265(a) deletes the exceptionNo provisions.No provisions.§102(e) provides funding
funding through the CCC.for when producers arefrom the CCC through
§1243(b)(2) allows the Sec. tohaving trouble meetingFY2011, and uses CCC
waive the enrollment ceiling ifcompliance requirements.funds to pay for technical
it would not adversely affectassistance.
the local economy or
producers are having problems
Note: Sec. is Secretary of Agriculture.
Program Description. The three compliance programs – Conservation Compliance,
Sodbuster, and Swampbuster – were enacted in the 1985 farm bill and are administered by
NRCS.9 These three programs remove producer access to certain federal farm program
benefits to producers who, respectively, (1) farm highly erodible lands without following a
conservation plan, (2) bring highly erodible land into production without following a
conservation plan, and (3) alter wetlands to produce crops. Under the 1985 law, producers
risked losing eligibility to most major farm programs on all they land they cultivated,
including: price and income support and related programs; farm storage facility loans; crop
insurance; disaster payments; storage payments; and any farm loan that would contribute to
erosion on highly erodible land. Amendments in 1990 and 1996 relaxed the reach and impact
of the compliance programs in many ways, including allowing graduated penalties and “good
faith” exemptions, deleting crop insurance from the benefits lost, and allowing self-
When first enacted, the compliance requirements generated widespread anxiety in the
farm community, both because these programs were a new approach to meeting conservation
goals and because no one knew how aggressively they might be implemented. Perhaps the
two largest implementation issues were the need to make wetland determinations at
approximately 4 million sites, and the need to develop compliance plans for about 140 million
acres classified as highly erodible by 1990. Both issues created a large increase in workload
for NRCS staff. But today, many of the past fears and problems seem to have dissipated.
Very few compliance and swampbuster violations result in loss of benefits. Supporters of
traditional agriculture say this reflects nearly universal compliance in the farm community,
while critics, primarily from the environmental community, wonder whether lax or limited
enforcement is responsible for the high success rate.
Program Accomplishments. Program accomplishments have been measured in
terms of reduction in soil erosion and identification of wetland acres. Soil erosion had
declined because of compliance, from almost 17 tons per acre per year to less than 6 tons on
sampled tracts in the mid 1990s. Wetlands have benefitted from delineation and from the
disincentives. The National Resources Inventory shows that the rate of wetlands conversions
on agricultural lands has declined significantly, but this data set does not document the
number of acres that might have been brought into production, but was not because of this
disincentive.10 Wetland protection interests seem more focused on possible changes to the
Wetland Reserve Program, discussed below, in this farm bill debate.
Issues. The reach of the compliance programs remains the main issue. Producers and
farm groups continue to worry about the potential for these programs to have a greater effect
on producers that would alter some production practices and result in either higher
production costs or less revenue, while some environmental interests would like to see that
reach extended, especially for wetlands protection. Questions include: Do producers need
9 The compliance programs are placed in subtitle B and C of Title XII, and are in §1211-
§1224 of the 1985 farm bill (16 U.S.C. 3811-3824).
10 The Natural Resources Inventory, conduced every five years by NRCS, is a statistically-
reliable inventory of conditions and trends of natural resources on non-federal lands
greater flexibility than the law currently provides; does a recent Supreme Court ruling that
eliminates the Clean Water Act’s regulatory program for wetlands under §404 of that Act for
isolated wetlands suggest any changes for swampbuster; and should crop insurance be
returned to the list of program benefits that could be lost by a producer who is out of
Table 2. Comparison of Proposed Compliance Provisions
TopicCurrent LawH.R. 2646S. 1267S. 1326
Loss of§1221(b) gives the Sec.§211 makes swampbustersNo provisions.No provisions.
Eligibilityauthority to determineineligible for specified loans
forwhich loans and paymentsand payments only in the year
Paymentsviolators will be ineligiblein which the violation occurs.
Program§1242(a) requires the Sec.§264 transfers primaryNo provisions.No provisions.
Adminis-to use local, county andresponsibility for
trationstate conservationadministering compliance
committees whenprograms from NRCS to FSA.
Technical§1213(e) requires the Sec.§265(d) allows producers toNo provisions.No provisions.
Assistanceto provide technicaluse approved third parties
assistance to producers whorather than NRCS staff to
are subject to compliance.provide technical assistance.
Technical§1222(a) addressesNo provisions.§1004(a) makes§205 makes
Amend-delineation of wetlands bytechnical amendments the same set of
mentsthe Sec. §1222(h)(2) sets amending §1222(a),technical
the period for compliance§1222(h)(2), §1222(j). amendments.
for a good faith exemption.
§1222(j) makes NRCS
responsible for technical
Notes: H.R. 2375 contains no amendments to the compliance provisions.
Sec. is Secretary of Agriculture.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
Program Description. EQIP, enacted in the 1996 farm bill and administered by
NRCS, provides cost-sharing, technical and educational assistance to producers under
agreements lasting between 5 and 10 years.12 Funding is authorized as mandatory spending
at $200 million annually, and provided through the CCC. Participants can receive up to
$10,000 per year and $50,000 for the total contract. EQIP funds are to provide the greatest
possible environmental benefits for the funds spent. EQIP replaced four programs –
Agricultural Conservation Program, Great Plains Conservation Program, Water Quality
11 The Supreme Court case is Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (No. 99-1178).
12 EQIP was enacted in 1996 as Chapter 4 of the 1985 farm bill, and is found in §1240-
§1240H (16 U.S.C. 3839aa-3839aa-8).
Incentives Program, and the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program – that were
repealed in the same bill.
EQIP made several significant changes in conservation policy. It is the first conservation
program to concentrate funds in priority areas in each state, where potential environmental
benefits would be greatest. NRCS policy has been that 65% of the funds be spent in priority
areas. Priority areas are identified in each state by the NRCS State Conservationist, working
with the State Technical Committee, then approved at headquarters. A second policy change
is EQIP is the first conservation program with funding directed specifically to livestock-
related issues. Half the funds are to be used to address these issues. Third, it is the first
conservation program to limit participation by any measure of farm size; livestock producers
cannot access EQIP funds to pay for constructing waste management facilities if they have
more than 1,000 animal units.
In recent years, Congress has limited EQIP spending to $174 million. However, §105
of the omnibus appropriations for FY2001 (P.L. 106-554) provided an additional $26 million,
raising the total to $200 million. Even full funding for this program would not come close
to meeting demand levels; in FY1999, for example, NRCS received almost 52,000
applications totaling $386 million, but only was able to fund almost 19,000 of those
applications. In response to this demand, the Clinton Administration had sought higher
funding levels, but never submitted legislation needed to raise the authorized ceiling.
Program Accomplishments. EQIP funds are distributed primarily as cost-sharing
payments to producers. In FY1999, for example, of the $174 million distributed, $137 million
was spent for cost sharing, $33 million was spent for technical assistance, and $4 million was
spent for educational assistance. Program accomplishments vary widely by state, depending
on the physical conditions and needs in priority areas.
The Economic Research Service recently looked at how EQIP funds have been spent.
It identified five categories of practices that are being funded: crop-related nutrient
management, livestock-related nutrient management, soil erosion and land protection, water
resources management, and other resource concerns. It found that the largest amount, 39%,
was being spent on water resource management practices, which range from more efficient
irrigation systems to livestock drinking troughs. It also found that while 58% of the total has
been spent on livestock-related activities, only 20% has been spent specifically on livestock
nutrient waste management. It found that the geographic distribution of funds had been fairly
even among 9 regions; with the largest portion, 14.3%, going to the Prairie Gateway
(southern plains) and the smallest portion, 8.1%, going to the Northern Great Plains
Issues. Issues have been raised about relationships between this new program and the
four programs that it replaced, how to address the high level of demand to participate, and
limiting participation for farms that meet certain characteristics.
EQIP and the Programs It Replaced. Several issues revolve around the general
question of whether EQIP is meant as a replacement for 4 repealed programs or is intended
to be a more significant break with the past. For example, some have suggested a return to
some of the characteristics of one of these programs, the Agricultural Conservation Program
(ACP), which provided smaller amounts of funding but to many more participants each year
to apply a different mix of practices, and on an annual rather than multi year cycle. Some also
have called for EQIP to be implemented using the same basic pattern of distributing funds,
by state, that was used under the four terminated programs. Still others take the alternative
view that EQIP spending patterns are too similar to the repealed programs and do not follow
the pattern of the most significant conservation needs. Questions include: after several years
of implementation, to what degree do EQIP funding patterns continue to replicate the
funding distribution by state of the four programs that it replaced; has the decline in the
number who can participate in any year (because more funding is available under each
contract) affected support for this program (compared with the ACP); and should the
program be altered to increase the environmental benefits provided outside priority areas,
where spending is currently concentrated in each state?
Meeting Participation Demands. EQIP is different from the programs that it
replaced in several respects. As the first conservation program to assist farmers who want
to address livestock issues, it has greatly increased the pool of possible participants,
introducing more competition for funding to traditional recipients of cost-sharing
conservation funds. Producers who are located outside priority areas are also finding it more
difficult to participate. These changes, made when EQIP was created in 1996, are among the
reasons why demand for the program greatly exceeds available funds. Questions include:
should the overall funding level for the program be increased; should funding levels be raised
to a level that would allow a similar number of producers to participate in this program as had
participated in the ACP (more than 125,000 producers received ACP funding in FY1994, the
last year that funding approached $200 million); should the average size of priorities areas be
changed to increase the effectiveness of projects; and should the maximum length or total
funding level for a contract be altered?
Limiting Participation of Larger Farms. EQIP is the first conservation program
that limited participation based on farm size, in this instance to pay for the construction of
animal waste management facilities. This change proved particularly contentious. Lawmakers
left it to the Department to define large operations through the rule-making process. It
defined them by number of animals – 1,000 beef cattle, 800 dairy cows, 2,500 pigs, or 20,000
chickens. Some farm groups opposed this change, while others, particularly small farm
advocates, contended that USDA set the threshold too high. Questions include: should this
(or other) conservation programs be available to only a portion of all producers; should large
farms be expected to pay for certain conservation practices that may be required by federal
or state law or permit requirements as part of their farm operations without federal assistance;
and should EQIP funds be made available to large operations to develop animal waste
management facilities under certain circumstances?
Table 3. Comparison of Proposed EQIP Provisions
Current LawH.R. 2646H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
§1240 identifies the 4 §251deletes reference to the 4No provisions.§501 adds “air” to the§101 specifies 6 purposes of
programs that EQIP replaces, programs that were replaced, andpurposes of the program. EQIP.
and specifies that the programreplaces a purpose of responding
maximize environmentalto environmental threats with a
benefits per dollar spent whilepurpose of providing
meeting 4 purposes.environmental benefits.
§1240(A) defines 5 terms;§252 adds non-industrial privateNo provisions.§501 adds “air” to all§101 includes definitions of
“eligible land”, “landforest land to “eligible land”, anddefinitions that identify soil. “comprehensive nutrient
management practice”,replaces the notion of posing anmanagement”, “eligible lands”,
“livestock, producer”, andenvironmental threat with the“land management practices”,
“structural practice”. notion of providing environmental“livestock”, “maximum
benefits in that definition;environmental benefits per dollar
“producer” is expanded to includeexpended”, “practice”,
non-industrial private forestry;“producer”, and “structural
iki/CRS-RL31131and permanent wildlife habitat ispractice”. The definitions of
g/wdeleted from “structural practice”.eligible lands and livestock are
leak§1240B authorizes EQIP§253 authorizes EQIP through§201(g) amends the non-§502 authorizes EQIP§101 authorizes EQIP through
://wikithrough 2002; authorizescontracts of 5 to 10 years;FY2011; authorizes contracts of 1to 10 years; repeals requirementfederal assistance subsectionto add drinking water utilitiesthrough FY2011. §503authorizes contracts of 1 to 10FY2011; adds comprehensivenutrient management planning to
httpprovides cost-share of notthat structural practices beas a source of assistance, andyears. §504 requires all costthe list of eligible practices;
more than 75% for structuralselected based on the maximumto allow these sources toshare payments to be 75% ofauthorizes contracts of 3 to 10
practices; prohibits costenvironmental benefits per dollarprovide cost-share paymentsthe cost for installingyears (except that nutrient
sharing to large livestockspent; deletes limitation onand incentives in addition tostructural practices. §505management practices can be
operations to construct animalpayments to large livestocktechnical assistance. §201(i)repeals limitation onless than 3 years); repeals
waste management facilities;operations to construct animalallows the Sec. to consider thepayments to large livestocklimitation on payments to large
funding, not to exceedwaste management facilities; addsdegree to which producersoperations to construct certainlivestock operations to construct
projected costs, is provideda new subsection to makewould reduce or limit the usefacilities; §506 limitscertain facilities; requires the
for technical assistance; typesincentive payments at an amountof antibiotics when providingtechnical assistance to 25% ofSec. to develop approval and
of private sources to provideand rate to encourage multiplefunds to livestock operations.total funding annually. §507evaluation processes; allows the
technical assistance are listed. land management practices; andexpands types of privateSec. to designate special projects
emphasizes payments for practicessources for technicalto address specific issues; allows
that address “residue, nutrient,assistance to include “otherother approved sources to
pest, invasive species, and airtechnical advisors (approvedprovide technical assistance;
quality management.” by the Sec.)” describes how bids are to be
evaluated; allows cost share of up
to 90% under limited
Current LawH.R. 2646H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
§1240C requires Sec. to give§254 replaces these provisions§201(f) adds a new subsection§508 replaces priority area§101 requires the Sec. to give
higher priority to assistancewith general language aboutthat requires the Sec. toprovision with a requirementhigher priority to: maximize
in priority areas, maximizeaiding farmers to comply withestablish a ranking processto assist in meeting federalenvironmental benefits per dollar
environmental benefits perenvironmental laws andand benefits index, givingand state environmental laws,spent; address specified national
dollar spent, or are inencourage conservation, andextra credit to small andincluding nonpoint pollutionconservation priorities; problems
watersheds, regions, ormaximizing the benefits of usingdisadvantaged farmers, and torequirements; and deletesin priority areas; or in special
conservation priority areasmanure. producers who have practiced“conservation priority areas”projects initiated by a new
where states or localities areconservation. §201(h) addswhere states and localities are§1240B(g).
active partners.factors that should beactive partners.
considered in addition to
§1240D lists 5 duties; one is a§255 deletes the prohibition onNo provisions.No provisions.No provisions.
prohibition against practicespractices that counter the purposes
that counter the purposes ofof EQIP.
iki/CRS-RL31131§1240E lists the generalcontents of plans producers§256 replaces mention of management and structuralNo provisions.No provisions.No provisions.
g/ware required to submit to thepractices with providing greater
s.orSec. to participate.environmental benefits.
§1240F assigns 5 duties to the§258 deletes 2 of these dutiesNo provisions.No provisions.§101 deletes the duty of
://wikiSec.which provide technicalproviding an eligibility
http assistance. assessment.
§1240G(a) limits payments to§258 limits payments to $50,000§201(d) allows the annual§509 limits payments to§101 limits payments to $50,000
$10,000 annually andannually and $200,000 perlimit to be exceeded to, $30,000 annually andannually and $150,000 per
$50,000 per contract.contract; deletes languageprohibits funding to livestock$150,000 per contract. §510contract, allows the Sec. to adjust
§1240G(b) specifies when theallowing annual limits to beproducers who must complyrepeals §1240G(c).these limits under 2 specified
annual limit can be exceeded.exceeded to provide maximumwith Clean Water Act permitconditions, and repeals
§1240G(c) delays federalenvironmental benefit per dollarrequirements, and repeals§1240G(c).
expenditures until the yearspent, and repeals §1240G(c).§1240G(c).
after the contract has been
Current LawH.R. 2646H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
No provisions.§259 adds a new §1240(H) that§201(c) adds a newNo provisions.§101 adds a new §1240H that
provides $60 million annuallysubsection for multiyearprovides $100 million annually
through FY2011 for cost sharewatershed managementfor competitive innovative grants
payments and low interest loans tocontracts to protect public(e.g. market based pollution
encourage groundwaterdrinking water supplies andcredit trading); federal share is
conservation. provides $1 billion, withless than 50%; funds unobligated
annual payments to individualby June 1 each year can be spent
recipients limited to $50,000. on other EQIP purposes.
§1241(b) provides $200§262 provides $200 million for§201(a) provides $130§511 provides $615 million§101 provides $650 million in
million annually from theFY2001, and $1.2 billion annuallymillion for FY2002 and $1annually through FY2011FY2003, $1 billion in FY2004,
CCC for EQIP, with 50% offor FY2002 through FY2011 frombillion annually for FY2003from the CCC, and requiresand $1.5 billion annually in
the total going to practicesthe CCC. §264 amends §1242(a)through FY2008 from thethat at least $15 million ofFY2005-FY2011 from the CCC.
related to livestockto make the FSA the principleCCC. §201(b) replaces thethat amount be spent on§101 requires that 5% of funding
production. §1242 definesagency implementing EQIP.livestock requirement, andsalinity control measures ineach year be dedicated to special
coordination among agencies.§265(e) allows producers to obtainprovides at least 20% of thethe Colorado River basin.projects.
technical assistance from funding for managed grazing
iki/CRS-RL31131approved third parties as well asNRCS. systems, at least 10% forinnovative manure
g/wmanagement systems, at least
s.or20% for water conservation
leakthrough increased irrigation
efficiencies (with half of that
://wikigoing to improve fisheries
httphabitat), and at least 10% to
practices that reduce pesticide
use. §201(c) also addresses
planning requirements, the
role of watershed councils,
coordination, and authorizes
10 pilot projects in
conjunction with drinking
Farmland Protection Program (FPP)
Program Description. The FPP, enacted in the 1996 farm bill, provided a total of
$35 million through FY2002 in mandatory spending from the CCC to state and local
governments to purchase conservation easements on productive soils that are “subject to a13
pending offer from a state or local government.” NRCS, the administering agency, allocated
the authorized amount by the end of FY1998.
Congress appropriated additional funds for FY2001 when §211(a) of the crop insurance
reform legislation (P.L. 106-224) provided an additional $10 million and made certain non-
profit organizations (NGOs) eligible to receive funds. Section 107 of the final omnibus
appropriations for FY2001 (P.L. 106-554) made the FPP eligible for a portion of an
additional $40 million that §211(b) of P.L. 106-224 had provided for certain conservation
cost-sharing activities. The Department decided to allocate $7.5 million of this amount to the
FPP, so it received a total of $17.5 million for FY2001. NRCS determined that NGOs could
apply for grants only from the $10 million provided in the crop insurance reform legislation.
As in earlier years, requests for those funds greatly exceeded the available amount.
Program Accomplishments. The $35 million authorized in the 1996 farm bill was
obligated by the end of FY1998 to acquire easements on more than 127,000 acres in 19
states. (The law called for easements to be acquired on 170,000 to 340,000 acres, but the
money was fully allocated before the minimum acreage was reached.) The process to actually
complete the process of placing an easement on land can be lengthy, and by the end of
FY1998, the last report on the program showed that this process had been completed on less
than 40,000 acres. NRCS states that every federal dollar has been matched by an average of
$6 from other participants.
Issues. Issues have been raised about the disparity between the high level of interest
in the program and the available funding, implications for expanding eligibility, and what lands
are actually protected with these funds.
Interest in Participation. Demand for funding has greatly exceeded the amount
available. NRCS reported in March, 2001, that it had a backlog of 747 offers involving
almost 160,000 acres that would require about $165 million. Most participating states
(including participating localities in those states) received at least $1.5 million, but only two
states received more than $3 million in federal funds; California ($3.4 million) and
Pennsylvania ($3.27 million). Press reports indicate that interest in protecting farmland (and
other “desirable lands”) continues to spread. Questions include: how much federal funding
would be appropriate; what limits (if any) should be placed on protection efforts when federal
funds are involved; should the pending offer requirement be retained; and should this program
be integrated with other long-term land retirement and resource protection programs both
within and outside of USDA?
Eligibility. The changes to the FFP enacted in the crop insurance reform legislation
that expanded eligibility is a departure from past practices because it allows private and public
entities to compete directly for federal grant funds. It is not clear whether either private or
public entities will have any inherent advantages over the other. Questions include: how
13 The FPP is in §388 of the 1996 farm bill (16 U.S.C. 3830).
might the program be changed to accommodate eligible private entities, if at all; how will
public entities react if their funding is reduced to support these new participants; and will
these new participants alter the geographic distribution of program spending funds by either
including some new states or increasing activity in some states that already participate (and
decreasing activity in others)?
Distribution of Funds. Data indicate that NRCS awards most eligible states similar
amounts. Should states equity guide future distributions, or should other considerations carry
more weight, such as the quality and accomplishments of the grant applicants to date, the
relative intensity of the conversion pressure on the parcels where offers are pending, or the
relative productivity or uniqueness of the land that would be protected? The requests for
proposal provide little detail on how NRCS makes these decisions. Questions center on: how
does NRCS decide the relative cost effectiveness of each request; should the money continue
to be distributed relatively evenly among eligible states; and could the target of 170,000 acres
have been reached if funds had been distributed differently?
Table 4. Comparison of Proposed FPP Provisions
TopicCurrent LawH.R.H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
Funding§388(c) provides up to a§272(b)§101provides up to $500 million§901§104
Leveltotal of $35 millionprovidesannually through FY2008 fromprovides provides $65
from the CCC by$50 millionthe CCC; limits technical$100 millionmillion
FY2002. annuallyassistance to no more than 10%annuallyannually
throughof the total; and limits the federalfrom FY2003from FY2003
FY2011share to less than 50% of thethroughthrough
from thetotal cost. FY2011 fromFY2011 from
CCC.the CCC.the CCC.
Types of§388(a) allows purchaseNo§101 allows purchase ofNoNo
Ease-of conservationprovisions.permanent conservationprovisions.provisions.
mentseasements (an undefinedeasements, or conservation
term).easement or other interests when
the land is subject to a pending
offer from state or local
Eligible§388(a) makes between§272(a)§101 makes land eligible if it isNo§104
Land170,000 acres andmakesused for farming, ranching, andprovisions.includes crop
the soil is prime, uniquearchaeologirangeland,
or productive, and ancal sitesgrassland,
offer is pending from aeligible.and private
state or localforest land.
government to limit non
Conser-§388(b) requires aNoRestates current law.No§104 adds a
vationconservation plan if theprovisions.provisions.new
Planningland is highly erodible;subsection
the Sec. can requirethat prohibits
conversion of the land todegradation
a less intensive use inof the
TopicCurrent LawH.R.H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
Eligible§388(a) makes eligibleNo§104 also makes eligible anyNo§104 same as
Partici-any state or local agencyprovisions.recognized Indian tribe and non-provisions.provisions in
pantsthat has made an offerprofits that meet certainH.R. 2375.
to purchase aqualifications.
Compar-No provisions.No§104 requires Sec. to considerNoNo
ing Bidsprovisions.how strongly states areprovisions.provisions.
discouraging conversion to urban
uses when comparing bids.
Enforc-No provisions.No§104 requires states to certifyNoNo
ingprovisions.that easements are in a form thatprovisions.provisions.
Ease-can be enforced.
NewNo provisions.No§104 provides up to $10 millionNoNo
Programprovisions.from the CCC for a new programprovisions.provisions.
Optionsoption for producers who agree
to forego development for 5 to 10
Note: Sec. is the Secretary of Agriculture.
Forestry Incentives Program (FIP)
Program Description. FIP, administered by NRCS, provides technical and cost-
sharing assistance to forest land owners to help them install practices, such as tree planting
and timber stand improvements on non-industrial private forest lands.14 Landowners eligible
to receive cost-sharing assistance must meet a number of qualifications, including owning no
more than 1,000 acres of eligible forest land (this requirement can be waived by NRCS up to
an absolute maximum of 5,000 acres), being able to produce at least 50 cubic feet of wood
per year, and be both a private landowner and a manufacturer of forest products on a part-
time basis rather than as a primary source of income. FIP is offered in designated counties
where a Forest Service survey indicates that the total private timber acreage has the potential
to supply sufficient wood to support production of timber products. The Forest Service
administers several very similar programs.15
Program Accomplishments. Over the past decade, outlays and participation in the
program have both been declining. In FY1989, this program spent more than $10 million to
assist more than 5,000 participants. By FY1999, outlays had dropped to $5.6 million, while
participation remained about the same. (It had fallen to a low of 3,124 in FY1996.) The
acreage trends are similar. In FY1989, trees were planted on more than 164,000 acres,
timber stand improvements were made on more than 30,000 acres, and sites were prepared
14 FIP was authorized in §4 of the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978, and
reauthorized through FY2002 in the 1996 farm bill. (16 U.S.C. 2103)
15 FIP is one of a suite of closely related state and community forestry programs. All these
programs except FIP are administered by the Forest Service. For more information on these
programs, see CRS Report RL31065, Forestry Assistance Programs.
for natural regeneration on more than 3,600 acres. By contrast, in FY1999, trees were
planted on more than 82,000 acres, timber stands improvements were made on almost 20,000
acres, and sites were prepared for natural regeneration on about 4,500 acres.
Issues. In recent budget submissions, the earlier Bush and Clinton Administrations
recommended that the program be terminated, and that these efforts be continued through
several similar Forest Service programs. Congress has repeatedly disagreed. Questions
include: should some of the closely related forest programs be combined; should they all be
administered by the Forest Service; does FIP duplicate programs offered by the Forest
Service; are some landowners who participate in this program ineligible for other similar
forestry programs; are some land owners more likely to participate in a NRCS program than
in a Forest Service program; and how has participation been distributed around the country?
Table 5. Comparison of Proposed FIP Provisions
TopicCurrent LawH.R. 2646S. 1326
Funding§4(j) authorizes such§801 repeals the FIP (§4) and the §204(e)(2)
Levelfunds as necessary,Stewardship Incentive Program (§6). reauthorizes FIP
including funds for§802 replaces them with a new Forestthrough FY2011.
technical assistance,Land Enhancement Act, funded with
through FY2002.$150 million by FY2011 from the
Uses of§4(f) limits cost sharing to§802 would provide cost sharingNo provisions.
Fundingno more than 75% of theassistance of up to 75% to implement
landowner’s actual costs.practices in an approved plan over a
period of at least 10 years to help
landowners more actively establish,
restore, manage, maintain, or enhance
nonindustrial private forest lands. The
Sec. would be required to coordinate
with state foresters and State Forest
Stewardship Coordinating Committees.
Notes: H.R. 2375 and S. 1276 would not amend FIP, and would therefore allow it to expire at the end of
FIP is one of several closely related programs created by the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of
1978. While the forestry proposals in these bills are not limited to FIP alone, the other forestry programs, all
administered by the Forest Service in USDA, are beyond the scope of this paper and not discussed further.
Resource Conservation and Development Program(RC&D)
Program Description. The RC&D, administered by NRCS, provides funds to
approved RC&D councils, which encompass multi-county areas, to help them plan and16
implement programs for resource conservation and development in rural areas. Each area
is coordinated by a Council, which is locally organized, sponsored, and directed. Councils
typically have several sponsors, including county governments, conservation districts, state
agencies, and cooperating private organizations. NRCS provides administrative leadership
16 The RC&D Program was enacted in §102 of the 1962 Food and Agricultural Act, revised
in §1528-1538 of the 1981 Agriculture and Food Act, and reauthorized through FY2002 in
the 1996 farm bill (16 U.S.C. 3453-3461).
for each Council, and other sources, including agencies in USDA, provide other forms of
The program is authorized to designate up to 450 areas. Currently, there are 348
RC&Ds encompassing counties in all 50 states. The newest 33 councils were designated in
December 2000, and additional applications await secretarial action. Appropriations for this
program have been slowly rising, from more than $27 million a decade ago to about $35
million in recent years. For FY2001, funding was $42 million, the highest level yet and more
than either appropriations committee had initially approved.
Program Accomplishments. Accomplishments of councils are highly varied,
reflecting local physical conditions and economic and environmental needs. NRCS attributes
almost 50,000 projects to the RC&D councils. In planning and implementing these projects,
councils draw on technical assistance from NRCS and financial assistance from other sources.
Projects initiated by councils address natural resource improvements, community
improvement, forestry, education, economic development, water supply and quality,
recreation and tourism, marketing and merchandising, fish and wildlife, and waste and waste
utilization. For each of these topics, NRCS measures accomplishments. For example, efforts
to improve natural resources have resulted in improvements to 500,000 acres of wildlife
habitat, 510,000 acres of lakes, and 1,500 miles of streams.
Issues. More than two thirds of all counties and 75% of the land area are now in a
designated RC&D area. Current law authorizes up to 450 areas. Some accomplishments
appear to be primarily related to increasing cooperation and coordination or being more
efficient. Other accomplishments relate to implementing changes that lead directly to
improved resource conditions on the ground. Questions include: should a program goal be
to eventually have every county in the country participating; should this program be funded
at a higher level that would provide additional assistance to all Councils; and should Councils
be required to be self-sustaining, by withdrawing NRCS support after they complete work
Comparison of Proposed Provisions. Current law, as amended in §1528
through §1538 of the 1981 farm bill (P.L. 97-98), is described above. Two of the bills, H.R.
2646 and S. 1267, would make numerous technical amendments, which would not affect the
basic direction or goals of the program. The amendments appear to have the same general
effects, although they are drafted in different ways. In H.R. 2646, §273 would amend the
RC&D by making the authorization permanent. It also would make changes to the RC&D
legislation by amending several definitions and making Indian tribes eligible to participate.
H.R. 2375 does not amend the RC&D legislation (and it would therefore expire at the end
of FY2002). In S. 1267, §601 would make most of the same changes as §273 of H.R. 2646.
In S. 1326, §204(d), would extend the program authorization through FY2011.
Program Description. The purposes of the Watershed Program, administered by
NRCS, include preventing erosion, flood, and sediment damages, and furthering conservation
and use of both water and land in watersheds where projects are authorized.17 Projects may
also include the development of recreation facilities and improvement to fish and wildlife
habitat. This program is commonly referred to as the small watershed program because a
large majority of the projects have been built under the authorities of the Watershed
Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954, or P.L.-566 (enacted in the 83rd Congress),
which set maximum size limits. Each project has one or more local sponsors. An emerging
concern has been the need to rehabilitate the oldest dams and structures that are reaching or
exceeding their design life.
Congress could address many different aspects of the watershed program in the farm bill,
but the four bills being compared only address funding of the rehabilitation program.
Congress first addressed the rehabilitation question by authorizing $8 million for a pilot
rehabilitation program in four states: Ohio, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Wisconsin. Then
it authorized a general rehabilitation program in P.L. 106-472, the Grain Standards and
Warehouse Improvement Act of 2000, which provides up to $90 million for rehabilitation
through FY2005. Local sponsors must cover 35% of the rehabilitation costs. NRCS is to
develop a system to prioritize rehabilitation projects. It recently estimated that more than
Program Accomplishments. The Watershed Program has been a major
conservation activity; a total of 1,641 projects have been approved, and more than 10,000
flood control structures have been built. The total project costs have been $14 billion (1997
dollars), including more than $8.5 billion of federal funds. The total area encompassed by
all projects is more than 110 million acres.18 NRCS estimates that these projects provide
more than $1 billion in benefits to agriculture and others annually. These benefits center on
flood control, but they also include water management, municipal and industrial water supply,
recreation, fish and wildlife habitat improvement, water quality improvement, and land
conservation. This program has been funded at higher levels during some economic
downturns to stimulate rural economies by providing employment.
Issues. How should the rehabilitation program address changes in the needs and
purposes of watershed projects since the first projects were constructed more than 50 years
ago? Flood control is still needed in some situations, but other purposes have grown more
important, many of them dealing with aspects of the environment, such as protection of
wetlands, were not recognized when this program started. These changes are addressed in
new projects but may not be fully recognized as older projects are rehabilitated. The
rehabilitation process will expand as more structures deteriorate or age. Questions include:
should other purposes receive more attention in relation to flood control; should rehabilitation
17 The Watershed Program was first authorized under Public Law 534 in 1944 for flood
control in 11 specified watersheds, and then generically in 1954 for all small watersheds under
Public Law 566. Some relatively minor amendments were made in §1461-§1464 of the 1990
farm bill. Rehabilitation activities were first authorized in a 4 state pilot program in Title II
of the FY2001 agriculture appropriations (P.L. 106-387); then authorized for all states in
§313 of P.L. 106-472, the Grain Standards and Warehouse Improvement Act of 2000.
18 The initial 11 watershed projects were authorized in the Flood Control Act of 1944, or P.L.
534 (enacted in the 78th Congress). They are larger and encompass almost one third of the
be limited to addressing safety and deterioration questions, or should its purpose be expanded;
and how will funding levels affect the rehabilitation process?
Comparison of Proposed Provisions. Only one of the four bills, H.R. 2646,
would amend the Watershed Program. In H.R. 2646, §276 would reauthorize the small
watershed rehabilitation program, discussed above, through FY2011at a funding level of $15
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
Program Description. The WRP, administered by NRCS, provides mandatory funds
through the CCC to restore up to 1,075,000 acres of wetlands and protective buffers on
agricultural land.19 Most, but not all lands, are restored to their original natural condition; the
remainder (up to 30%) can be restored to a different natural condition that meets the
landowner’s objectives while providing wetland benefits. Before the 1996 amendments, all
land was enrolled in a permanent easement; now the program is required to use a mix of
permanent easements, 30-year easements, or cost-sharing agreements of at least 10 years.
The magnitude of assistance to the landowner is greatest for the permanent easement and
least for the cost-sharing agreement. Almost 90% of the enrolled land is under the permanent
Program Accomplishments. Interest in the WRP has been high as individuals have
sought to enroll many more acres than the program could accept. The FY2001 NRCS
Budget Notes report that for every acre accepted, more than 5 acres of eligible lands were
offered.20 Participation has been concentrated in the lower Mississippi River valley. States
with the most enrolled acreage through March 2001, are Louisiana (139,000 acres),
Mississippi (103,000 acres) and Arkansas (101,000 acres), according to data compiled by
NRCS. The next two states in terms of enrollment – California and Missouri – each have
about 60,000 acres in this program. If interest is measured by number of contracts, the
largest number is in New York (673 contracts). Other states with large numbers of contracts
include Iowa (424), Missouri (400), and Louisiana and Wisconsin (378 each).
Issues. Issues have been raised about enlarging the program, changing the eligibility
requirements, and simplifying the enrollment process.
Scope of Program. In most years, both the earlier Bush and Clinton Administrations
proposed enrolling larger amounts of land than Congress had allowed. Congress did this by
limiting staff time and resources available to the program in appropriations legislation. The
Clinton Administration also proposed larger enrollments because the WRP was a component
of its Clean Water Action Plan, as well as critical to the national wetlands policy goal of no-
net-loss. Much of the program effort was centered on reaching this goal for agricultural
lands, and the information that NRCS provides about WRP is more about enrolling land
19 The WRP was enacted in the 1990 farm bill, and is placed in Subchapter C of Chapter 1
(Environmental Conservation Acreage Reserve Program), and is in §1237-§1237F of the 1985
farm bill (16 U.S.C. 3837-3837f)
20 However, it does not assess what portion of the offered acres would have been accepted if
funding was not a constraint.
rather than restoration efforts. The program has reached its enrollment ceiling. Questions
include: should the overall ceiling be raised; should a total ceiling be replaced by an annual
enrollment maximum; should the justification for the program be altered if the no-net-loss
goal is attained on agricultural lands, perhaps to enroll lands to offset losses in other land use
categories; and how rapidly are agricultural wetlands being restored and what benefits are
those restorations providing?
Eligible Land. A variety of lands are eligible to enroll in the WRP. As interest in the
program greatly exceeds the amount of land that the program accepts, options to the current
pattern of eligibility might be considered. These options might be based on cost; NRCS
reports that easement costs range from $500 per acre in upstate New York to more than
$2,000 per acre in California. Also, certain types of wetlands may be more valuable because
they are scarce, or because they serve a more important set of functions at a particular
location. Support for some types of benefits, such as habitat, may be greater than for other
types of benefits, such as flood control or improving water quality. Finally, permanent
easements provide the greatest level of protection. Those familiar with the program have
stated that all acreage could be enrolled using permanent easements, if that were allowed.
Questions include: should WRP eligibility be narrowed so long as interest is high; should cost
be a consideration in deciding which acres to enroll; should certain benefits be favored over
others; and should enrollment be limited to permanent easements so long as land owners are
willing to offer sufficient land to be placed under that form of protection?
Enrollment Process. Actually enrolling land into the WRP is a long process that
includes initial signup, appraisals, and registering the easement with the deed. This process
is characterized by some as “cumbersome” and often has high transaction costs for NRCS and
others who are involved. Questions include: in what ways has the program been simplified
or streamlined since its inception; are there additional ways to simplify or streamline the
enrollment process; at what point in this process should land be considered to be enrolled;
and can the acreage at each stage of this process be identified at any time?
Table 6. Comparison of Proposed WRP Provisions
Current LawH.R. 2646H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
§1237(b)(1) limits total§241 allows enrollment of up to§302(a) allows enrollment of at§301 allows up to§103(a) sets an enrollment
enrollment at 1,075,000150,000 acres per year starting inleast 250,000 acres annually 250,000 acres to beceiling of 3,475,000 acres.
acres. §1237(c) allows land2002, with any acres up to thethrough FY2008, not to exceedenrolled annually§103(b) allows land to be
to be enrolled through 2002.annual limit that is not enrolled toa total of 2.5 million acres.from 2003 throughenrolled through FY2011.
be enrolled in succeeding years.2011.
§1237(b)(2) requires 1/3§241(b) deletes the 1/3§303 creates a new 250,000 acreNo provisions.§103(c) creates a new wetland
enrollment each usingrequirement and the distinctionwetland reserve enhancementreserve enhancement program,
permanent easements, 30 yearbetween permanent and temporaryprogram, modeled after themodeled after the CREP, that
easements, and agreements.easements.CREP. §303(b) defines eligiblewould allow agreements with
land. §303(c) sets eligibilitystate and local government, and
requirements for states. §303(d)non-governmental
sets state cost-sharingorganizations.
iki/CRS-RL31131requirements. §303(e) definespermitted and prohibited uses.
g/w§303(f) establishes payment
s.orterms. §303(g) sets the terms for
leakcontracts and easements.
§303(h) states that special
://wikiemphasis should be given to
httpwetlands which are declining orendangered, and wetlands that
are not adequately protected by
law, including isolated
§1237(c) defines eligible land§241(c) replaces §1237(c),(d), andNo provisions.No provisions.No provisions.
based on maximizing wildlife(e) with new subtitles that give
and wetland benefits, use inpriority to land that maximizes
agriculture, likelihood of awetlands functions and values,
successful restoration, andand make land enrolled in the
§1237(e) makes CRP timberCRP or under an EQIP contract
stands on cropland andineligible.
Current LawH.R. 2646H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
§1237A describes the general§242 replaces the 4 more specificNo provisions.No provisions.No provisions.
terms of easements andprohibitions in §1237A(b)(2) with
agreements. §1237A(b)(2)a general statement to allow only
prohibits altering habitat,changes permitted in the plan. It
spraying chemicals anddeletes subsection (c), which
mowing, any activity thatmakes NRCS responsible for
degrades the land, and anyrestoration plans and requires
other activity that countersconsultation with State Technical
the purpose of the easement,Committees, and subsection (h),
unless permitted in the plan.which permits the use of cost
sharing agreements for
§1237(C) describes how cost§243 deletes requirements to No provisions.§303 limits technical§103(d) adds monitoring and
sharing and technicalprovide technical assistance and to assistance to 10% ofmaintenance to what is included
assistance will be provided;consult with the Sec. of thethe funds provided.under “assistance.” §103(e)
and how priorities will be setInterior; and gives priority toadds technical assistance to the
iki/CRS-RL31131for determining which bids toaccept (requires consultationusing permanent easements. §265(e) allows producers to useactivities funded through theCCC.
g/wwith the Sec. of the Interior). approved third parties as well as
s.orthe NRCS for technical assistance.
://wiki§1237D(c)(1) limits easement§244 deletes the modifierNo provisions.No provisions.No provisions.
httppayments to $50,000“easement” from the limitation.
annually, with exceptions.
§1237E limits program entry§245 replaces 1990 acquisitionNo provisions.No provisions.No provisions.
if ownership changesdate in §1237E(a)(2) with
occurred during the previousprovision to make eligible at any
year, and specifies termstime land acquired through
under which easements canforeclosure where the previous
be modified or terminated.owner exercised a right of
No provisions.§302(b) requires the Sec. to issueNo provisions.No provisions.
revised regulations by 10/1/02 to
ensure equitable regional
enrollment, based on historic
distribution and opportunities for
Note: Sec. is the Secretary of Agriculture.
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP)
Program Description. WHIP, administered by NRCS, provides a total of $50 million
through FY2002 from the CCC to make cost sharing payments of up to 75% and provide
technical assistance to landowners who agree to develop and implement a wildlife habitat21
improvement plan under agreements lasting 5 to 10 years. Each state determines its wildlife
and habitat priorities. The authorized funds were exhausted during FY2000. Section 211(b)
of the crop insurance reform legislation (P.L. 106-224) provided $40 million for conservation
activities in FY2001, and the Department decided to allocate $12.5 million of this amount to
Program Accomplishments. For the most recent year for which data are available,
FY1999, the program distributed more than $22 million nationwide to fund 3,588 agreements;
amounts ranged from $6,046 in Delaware and $116,931 in Indiana to $779,116 in Colorado.
More than 720,000 acres were enrolled, averaging 187 acres per agreement. Program
accomplishments are described by types of habitat. Almost 90% of the total were upland acres
including grasslands, shrub/scrub, and forests. Of the remainder, more than 50,000 acres were
in wetlands that were not eligible for the WRP. NRCS estimates that threatened and
endangered species may benefit from about 10% of the lands enrolled in FY1999.
Issues. Issues have been raised about the importance of wildlife in the overall
conservation effort and about how to retain wildlife protection benefits after contracts expire.
Wildlife and the Conservation Effort. WHIP is but one of many conservation
programs that can provide wildlife benefits. However, it is the only program that is limited to
wildlife. The Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) focused on the integrative nature of these
programs in its recent report, How Much is Enough for 2002; A Regional Wildlife Habitat
Needs Assessment for the 2002 Farm Bill. This report makes numerous recommendations to
expand or adjust existing programs and create new ones, for example, for grasslands.
However, the only WHIP recommendations are to substantially increase funding (to $100
million annually). Questions include: what will more funding for WHIP actually buy; to
paraphrase the WMI report title, how much will be enough; should WHIP remain as a separate
program or be integrated into other conservation programs; and should policy makers increase
efforts to coordinate wildlife goals with other agricultural goals?
Wildlife Protection in the Future. Agreements will start to expire during the next
farm bill. There are no provisions that give priority to renewing contracts, or encourage
retention of the benefits that have been generated. At the end of their contract, landowners
will be under no further obligations, and only some will choose to maintain those benefits.
Questions include: what, if any obligation, should come after the contract for program
participants; should current participants be given a higher priority if they would like to extend
their contracts; and how should any extended contracts differ from the initial ones?
21 WHIP was enacted as §387 of the 1996 farm bill (16 U.S.C. 3836a)
Table 7. Comparison of Proposed WHIP Provisions
TopicCurrentH.R.H.R. 2375S. 1267S. 1326
Period of§387(c)§271§301 provides a total of $500§802 provides $100 million§1326
Authori-provides a totalprovidesmillion through FY2008.annually through FY2011provides
zationof $50 million$25from the CCC.$50
from the CCCmillionmillion
funding) by thethroughthrough
end of FY2002.FY2011FY2011
from thefrom the
ProgramNo provisions.No§301 adds new subsections that§801 adds new subsectionsNo
Partici-provisions.require at least 50% of the fundsthat require that at leastprovisions.
pationbe targeted to habitat for species$40 million each year be
andrecognized as threatened,spent on widely-dispersed
Endan-endangered, or of special concernpilot programs to help
geredby the Fish and Wildlife Service,avoid listing a species as
Speciesor as imperiled by a state naturalendangered or threatened;
heritage program; authorize theand to exempt participants
Sec. to assist landowners infrom being considered as
setting up “safe harbor”taking a threatened or
agreements.endangered species when
implementing a contract.
Declin-No provisions.No§301 uses at least 20% of theNo provisions.No
ingprovisions.funds to acquire permanentprovisions.
Habitat easements and water rights to
protect important and declining
habitat identified in each state.
IncentiveNo provisions.No§301 provides incentiveNo provisions. No
Pay-provisionspayments to landowners whoprovisions.
ments implement land management
practices that create or protect
Revi-No provisions.No§301 requires the Sec. to reviseNo provisions.No
sions toProvisionsenrollment criteria within 6provisions.
Enroll-months to ensure regional equity
mentand encourage projects that
Criteriacontribute to producer
Note: Sec. is the Secretary of Agriculture.
Other Amendments to Existing Programs
Each bill also would amend other conservation programs in various ways. Proposals in
some bills directly contradict other bills; for example some programs would be reauthorized
in some bills but repealed in others.22
Technical assistance is one of four types of conservation support the federal government
provides to landowners. (The others are financial, educational, and research). Technical
assistance is delivered by the NRCS, primarily through Conservation Technical Assistance
(CTA) activities. NRCS describes CTA as the “intellectual capital of the agency,” combining
expertise in soils and other sciences and engineering with knowledge of local conditions. The
“handbook” for CTA is the Field Office Technical Guide, which specifies standards for the
design and implementation of various conservation practices. Both CTA and the guide are
central to implementing almost every conservation program that serves farmers and
For the mandatory programs funded through the CCC (CRP,EQIP, WRP,WHIP, and
FPP), technical assistance is funded as a portion of total funding for each program. This
amounted to $90 million in FY2000, according to data supplied by NRCS to the House
Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture. Otherwise, technical assistance
is provided through the Conservation Operations line of the annual appropriations for NRCS
and through several other program accounts. This amounted to $619 million for CTA and
$212 million for other programs, according to the same data set.
The gap between the need for technical assistance to implement conservation programs
and the funding level for those programs has been growing in recent years. Some of the
underlying reasons for this gap, as summarized in the earlier discussion of cross-cutting issues,
is that: the conservation mission has been expanding; funding devoted to most conservation
activities, other than land retirement programs, has been growing more slowly; and the federal
staff to provide technical assistance has been shrinking. Proposed conservation legislation
could further expand the mission and greatly enlarge several existing programs, increasing the
pressure to address this gap.
Possible solutions that have been suggested could involve some combination of: (1)
shifting overall administration of some programs from NRCS to FSA; (2) increasing staff, and
therefore the capability of NRCS, to provide more conservation and serve more customers;
(3) allowing trained and certified individuals who are parties other than NRCS employees,
referred to as third parties, to provide some of the services that now only are provided by
NRCS; or (4) altering the legislation that created the CCC to either remove the current cap on
funding for technical assistance or create a separate account within the CCC for technical
22 In addition to provisions in H.R. 2646, House Report 107-191, pt. 1, which accompanies
this bill also calls for the Sec. to :examine ways to address over-allocation of water in the
Klamath Basin; to work with states and agricultural producers and coordinate assistance to
implement water conservation practices; to use EQIP contracts to control invasive species;
and to explore ways that farmers can reduce paperwork.
Each solution has some supporters, but also vocal opponents. Efforts to move
administration of conservation programs from either NRCS or FSA to the other agency, which
has been proposed in Congress and at USDA in recent years, has generated strong negative
reactions repeatedly from the constituents and clients of both agencies. Supporters of current
proposals to transfer programs from NRCS to FSA argue that the result would be a reduced
workload at NRCS that would allow its staff to focus on fewer programs, while opponents of
these transfers argue that the two agencies have different skills and capabilities, so a transfer
would penalize the overall conservation effort. While appropriators have limited funding
increases and have supported staffing reductions in recent years because of other higher
priorities, they have also supported emergency or supplemental funding for technical assistance
on numerous occasions. Using other parties to do some of the activities assigned to NRCS
has been met with suspicion by those who worry about the quality of service or the expense
of using private providers in place of free public services. Amending the CCC legislation in
either of the suggested ways is opposed by those who would like to maximize the amount of
money coming from the CCC that is distributed to producers, but supported by those who
view conservation as more important to these programs than current funding levels suggest.
Three of the bills propose various responses to these concerns.
In H.R. 2646, §265(b) would provide up to $100 million annually from FY2002 through
FY2011 from the CCC, with the total limited to $850 million, to provide technical assistance
for all the mandatory conservation programs funded through the CCC. It would also allow
technical assistance from other sources by supporting the use of approved other parties as well
as NRCS staff to provide technical assistance for these programs. The Secretary would be
required to issue regulations laying out a system for approving technical assistance providers
within 6 months of enactment; the required expertise in planning and implementation is
specified. Conforming amendments would be made to the highly erodible lands provisions
(1213(c)), CRP (§1233), WRP (§1237C(b), EQIP (§1240B), and Funding and Administration
(for mandatory programs) §1241(b). Section 281 would amend §6 of the Soil Conservation
and Domestic Allotment Act, which was enacted in 1935 and created the Conservation
Operations Account, to allow technical assistance funds to be used for all agriculture
In H.R. 2375, Title VI would amend technical assistance provisions. Section 601 would
authorize $964 million annually from FY2003 through FY2008 from the CCC. Section 602
would amend §1241 of the 1985 farm bill (the Funding and Administration subtitle) to allow
for full reimbursement of actual technical assistance costs for listed programs and any other
programs funded through the CCC that require technical assistance. Four activities –
providing an eligibility assessment as the basis for developing a conservation plan, providing
technical assistance in developing and implementing the plan, providing technical assistance
in installing structural and land management practices, and providing supporting information,
education, and training in support of implementing the plan -- are listed as being approved for
reimbursement. Section 603 would allow other parties certified by the Secretary to provide
technical assistance. The Secretary would develop guidelines for training and certification, and
establish training centers in eight specified locations, using $50 million annually from the CCC
to implement this subsection.
In S. 1326, §203 would require the Secretary to establish requirements, standards, and
procedures for certifying and recertifying other parties who are qualified to provide technical
assistance. Potential providers would pay a fee, to be set by the Secretary, for the certification
training process. The Secretary would decide which services private providers can offer,
except that they would be prohibited from assessing a CRP contract or conservation farm
option contract that would reduce net environmental benefits.
Grazing Lands Conservation
Section 386 of the 1996 farm bill created a program to coordinate technical, educational,
and related assistance to conserve and enhance private grazing lands, and authorized
appropriations of $20 million in FY1996, $40 million in FY1997, and $60 million annually
thereafter. It has been funded as an activity within the Conservation Operations line item that
earmarked in report language. It was given $18 million for FY2001.
In H.R. 2375, §305 would authorize $100 million annually from the CCC through
FY2008, and provide incentive payments to producers who enter into multi-year contracts to
improve their grazing lands. In S. 1267, §701 would authorize $60 million annually from the
CCC through FY2011, and delete existing provisions that require the program to be funded
as a line item in annual appropriations legislation.
Conservation Practice Standards
Conservation standards are the engineering and other criteria used to design conservation
practices. These standards are compiled in a handbook found in every county in the country.
There are currently no requirements in law for periodically reviewing or updating these
standards, some of which were last updated more than 20 years ago.
In H.R. 2375, §604 would require the Secretary to establish and revise standards for
conservation practices “immediately”, and to update the Handbook and guides where these
standards are described at least once every 5 years.
Evaluation and Monitoring
Program evaluation and monitoring has been a limited activity for conservation programs,
based on the small number of studies that have been published. In P.L. 95-192, the Soil and
Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977, §6 lays out a program to periodically monitor
conservation problems and evaluate the effectiveness of current programs and alternatives in
In H.R. 2375, §702 would require the Secretary to work with the National Academy of
Sciences to establish a program to evaluate the benefits of conservation practices as a
condition for receiving rental or cost-sharing payments. It defines the qualifications of
organizations that would be permitted to do the evaluations, and require the Secretary to use
the information these organizations collect to identify and rank needed measures. This activity
would be funded at $10 million annually through FY2011 from the CCC.
In S. 1267, §1002 would require the Secretary to request that the National Academy of
Science prepare a study, to be submitted to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees,
on developing and implementing a county-level accounting system to measure “efforts, gains,
and losses” in participation and natural resources as a result of agricultural conservation
Program Consolidation and Administration
In H.R. 2375, §503 discusses consolidation of community forestry programs, and was
discussed above in the FIP presentation. That discussion was limited to FIP, which is the only
community forestry program that is not administered by the Forest Service.
In S. 1326, §202 would call on the Secretary to consolidate conservation programs for
agricultural lands, “to the maximum extent possible” by designing forms that apply to all
programs, reducing and consolidating paperwork, developing a single classification system for
all information collected on forms, ensuring that USDA agencies have the technology that will
allow them to share those forms, and develop a single conservation plan format. Within 180
days of enactment, the Secretary would be required to report to both agriculture committees
with an implementation plan, as well as a budget, and a second plan for implementing the
periodic appraisal of soil and water resources required under the 1977 Soil and Water
Resources Conservation Act.
Program Extensions and Deletions
Congress has enacted many conservation programs that have never been implemented.
Other programs may have been implemented earlier, but are no longer being implemented.
Examples from the 1996 farm bill alone include the Conservation Farm Option (§335), the
Natural Resources Conservation Foundation (Subtitle F, §351through §360), and the Flood
Risk Reduction Program (§385).
In H.R. 2646, §291(a) would repeal the wetland mitigation banking program enacted as
§1222(k) of the 1985 farm bill; §291(b) would repeal the CRP payment limits enacted in
§1234(F)(3) of the 1985 farm bill; §291(c) would repeal the base history provisions of the
CRP, enacted in §1236 of the 1985 farm bill; §291(d) would repeal the WRP payment limits
enacted in §1237D(c)(3) of the 1985 farm bill; §291(e) would repeal the Environmental
Easement Program, enacted in Title XII, Subtitle D, Chapter 3 of the 1985 farm bill; §291(f)
would repeal the Conservation Farm Option, enacted in Title XII, Subtitle D, Chapter 5 of the
1985 farm bill; §291(g) would repeal the Tree Planting Initiative, enacted in §1256 of the 1985
farm bill, and §292 would repeal provisions creating the National Natural Resources
Conservation Foundation, enacted in Subtitle F of Title III of the 1996 farm bill.
In S. 1267, §1004(c) would repeal the Environmental Easement Program, enacted in Title
XII, Subtitle D, Chapter 3 of the 1985 farm bill.
In S. 1326, §204 would extend the authorization through FY2011 for several programs,
including the Conservation Farm Option and the Flood Risk Reduction Program (others have
been noted in discussions of those programs).
The Environmental Conservation Acreage Reserve Program
ECARP is a program and policy umbrella, created in §1230 of the 1985 farm bill.
Programs under this umbrella include the CRP (Subchapter B), the WRP (Subchapter C), and
EQIP (chapter 4). Section 1230(a)(1) states that the main purpose is to assist producers “to
conserve and enhance soil, water, and related natural resources, including grazing land,
wetland, and wildlife habitat.” The main policy that ECARP creates is the identification of
priority areas “that are eligible for enhanced assistance” through the programs that fall under
the ECARP umbrella. Priority areas are to be designated in locations where producers can
benefit from assistance to comply with federal and state environmental laws or to meet other
conservation needs. The only specified law is the non point water pollution requirements of
the Clean Water Act.
In H.R. 2646, §221would delete the entire ECARP provision, with the exception of
§1230A, which provides relief to producers who have violated provisions of CRP or WRP
through no fault of their own; this subsection would be transferred to a new §1244, in the
Funding and Administration subtitle.
In H.R. 2375, §701 would add a provision to §1230 to require the Secretary to revise
policies by October 1, 2002 to ensure that enrollment of land into the ECARP programs is
equitable among regions.
In S. 1326, §204(a) would extend the authority for ECARP through FY2011.
New Program Proposals
Each bill includes some new program proposals. These proposals are briefly explained
in this section. Some other proposals in these bills are not discussed in this section. All the
proposals to alter forestry programs, other than changes to the FIP, are not included. In
addition, several proposals in two bills that have not been traditionally considered to be part
of resource conservation are not included. These provisions include §1003 of S. 1267, which
would require the Secretary to prepare a study of the effectiveness of agriculture disaster
programs and submit that study to Congress within 60 days of enactment, and several sections
in H.R. 2375, including:
!Expansion of state marketing programs (§102);
!Amendments to the Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act (§103);
!Promotion of locally-grown fruits and vegetables (§104);
!Increasing appropriations for assistance to socially-disadvantaged farmers (§105);
!Providing loans and grants for manure reuse activities (§202); and
!A new program to assist in the transition to organic farming, funded at $100 million
annually through the CCC (§401).
Three of the bills would authorize a new grassland reserve. This reserve would be in
addition to the private grazing lands conservation program. Amendments to the existing
program, proposed in H.R. 2375 and S. 1267, are discussed above.
Table 8. Comparison of Proposed Grasslands Reserve Program
TopicH.R. 2646H.R. 2375S. 1267
Program §274 creates a 2 million acre§306(a) would establish aIn Title IV, §401 creates a 1
Purposesgrasslands reserve under ECARP,new 3 million acre program,million acre grasslands
split evenly between restoredwith at least half the landreserve. Same minimum size
grasslands and virgin (neverenrolled using permanentqualifications as in H.R.
cultivated) grasslands. Minimumeasements. 2646.
size for enrolled parcels is 50 acresth
east of the 90 meridian and 100th
acres west of the 90 meridian.
Eligible§274 permits landowners to enroll§306(b) uses the same§401 same as H.R. 2375.
Landnatural grass and shrub land that hasdefinition of eligible land as
a potential to serve as important plantin H.R. 2646, except that this
or animal habitat.bill also would allow
incidental additional land to
Contracts §274 permits contracts of 10, 15, and§306(c) permits contracts of§401 allows enrollment in;
20 years. Contract payments are10 years. §306(e) requirespermanent easements, 30
limited to 75% of the grazing value ofthe Sec. to establish a systemyear easements, easement at
the land.for fair compensation.the maximum length
allowed by a state, and 30
year rental agreements.
Permitted§274 permits contract holders to use §306(c)(2) similar to H.R.§401 same as H.R. 2646,
andcommon grazing practices, and2646 for permitted andexcept that this bill requires
Prohibitedpermits haying and mowing outsideprohibited activities, exceptperiodic inspections of
Usesthe bird nesting season, but prohibitsthat this bill also prohibitsenrolled lands. It specifies
all agricultural production (exceptbuilding permanent structurespayment schedules under the
hay) and all practices that requireon enrolled land.different forms of
disturbing the land surface orenrollment, and requires that
breaking the soil except constructionland in a 30 year rental
of fire breaks and fences, oragreement be reassessed
restoration activities.periodically, with the
payment rate adjusted.
Ranking§274 requires the Sec. to develop§306(d) same as H.R. 2646,No provisions.
Bidsranking criteria, with emphasis onand adds preference for large
support for native vegetation, grazingcontiguous tracts of working
operations, and plant and animalfarm and ranch land.
Cost-§274 provides cost sharing paymentsNo provisions.§401 limits cost sharing
sharingfor restoration of 90% or less onassistance to 75%, and limits
Paymentsvirgin grasslands or 75% or less onreimbursement to NRCS for
restored grassland; annual paymentstechnical assistance to 10%
to producers could not exceed 75% ofof the federal cost of
the grazing value of the land.restoration and the cost of
Program§264 makes FSA the primaryNo provisions.§401 sets criteria for the Sec.
Adminis-implementing agency.to delegate easements to
trationprivate conservation and
land trust organizations, and
regulations to be issued
within 180 days.
Note: S. 1326 does not contain any comparable proposal.
Sec. is the Secretary of Agriculture.
WRP Enhancement Program
In H.R. 2375, §303 would create a 250,000 acre program of cost sharing with states,
modeled after the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Participants could
enroll wetlands in agreements of 10 to 30 years, or in easements of more than 30 years. States
would identify eligible land as significant habitat, having water quality value, or a potential to
reduce floods, with priority given to types of wetlands that are declining or not protected by
law. Eligible lands would include wetlands, converted wetlands, potential wetlands, and
limited buffer areas. States must submit a plan and contribute 25% of the program costs to
participate. The activities permitted and prohibited would be the same as under the grasslands
reserve proposal in H.R. 2375 (discussed above). In land placed under permanent easement,
restoration of wetlands, grassland and shrubs would be permitted, while development and
commercial crop and timber production would be prohibited.
Corridor Demonstration Projects
In H.R. 2375, Title VIII would establish one or more demonstration projects for
ecosystems or watersheds using existing conservation programs, as determined within 90 days
of enactment by the Secretary, in consultation with the states. Agreements with states would
be through a plan about resources to be used, giving the Secretary flexibility to make
adjustments to apply programs more effectively and efficiently. States would have 6 months
from the date of enactment to submit plans; the Secretary would have 30 days to review and
approve the proposal based on 4 specified criteria. States would contribute an unspecified
portion of necessary resources; the federal portion would be funded through an unspecified
portion of the funding for all conservation programs provided through the CCC.
Protection of data collected by federal agencies about resource conditions or farm
operations that could be used to identify individuals or to locate specific sites or properties has
been a growing concern to producers. Driving this concern are the expanded ability of
computers to manipulate complex data sets, and efforts by environmental quality programs
to locate possible sources of problems, such as groundwater pollution, that might originate
from agricultural activities. Specific concerns include potential liability and reduced property
values. Producers and landowners reportedly have responded to these concerns by being less
willing to share information about their operations in surveys conducted by agencies in USDA.
In H.R. 2375, §702(f) would protect data about individuals used for evaluation and
monitoring; and allow the use of data aggregated so that individuals could not be identified.
In the EQIP provisions, §201(c) which would establish watershed quality incentive contracts,
has a subsection 9, excludes collected data from federal mandatory disclosure requirements
except “in an aggregate form to measure expected benefits.”
In S. 1276, §1001 would add a new section to subtitle E of the 1985 farm bill (Funding
and Administration subsection) stating that information associated with implementing any
NRCS or FSA conservation program, or with the Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) and the
individual sample points from which that data is compiled, is not public and not to be released.
Cooperating agencies and organization, however, could obtain these data. Information from
the NRI could be released in aggregate form that precludes identification of individuals or
specific data gathering sites.
In S. 1326, §201 is identical to privacy provisions in S. 1276, except that it also includes
a provision that allows an individual to disclose information about his operation, but that
information may not be used as a condition for participating in or benefitting from any
Farmland Stewardship Program
In H.R. 2646, §275 would create a new Farmland Stewardship Program, to be
administered by NRCS, “to more precisely tailor and target” current conservation programs,
using program funding on a watershed basis, where possible. Participation would require
matching funds. Participants would submit a management plan and would be encouraged to
use easements, where possible, to implement conservation management.