As springtime approaches, the USDA reminds producers to keep conservation compliance in mind before making any major land use changes on their farming or ranching operations. Being out of compliance could put USDA conservation program benefits and federal crop insurance premium subsidies in jeopardy.
Conservation compliance refers to the USDA requirement that highly erodible land be farmed in a manner that minimizes soil erosion. This may include practicing no-till or planting cover crops.
Conservation compliance also prohibits the conversion of wetlands or planting agricultural commodities on a converted wetland. Converting a wetland may include removal of trees, installing new drainage, or modifying existing drainage areas.
Craig Derickson, state conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) says, “We want producers to visit their local USDA Service Center before making any big land use changes on their farm or ranch. There are requirements producers need to follow to remain eligible for USDA benefits.”
Dan Steinkruger, director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) says, “It is especially important that farmers who are breaking out new land, or conducting other types of land improvement activities, timely file an AD-1026 form with FSA. Once the AD-1026 is filed, the producer’s planned land activities can be evaluated, and highly erodible land and wetland determinations can be made. The producer can then work with NRCS to assist with conservation planning to help ensure compliance with conservation requirements.”
The Agricultural Act of 2014 – commonly called the Farm Bill – continues the requirement that producers adhere to conservation compliance guidelines in order to be eligible for most programs administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This includes the new price and revenue protection programs, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Livestock Disaster Assistance Programs and Marketing Assistance Loans implemented by FSA. It also includes conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) administered by NRCS.
The 2014 Farm Bill also extended conservation compliance as an eligibility requirement for federal crop insurance premium subsidies, which may account for approximately 60% of a producer’s overall premium cost. When a producer is determined to be in violation of conservation compliance rules, it not only causes ineligibility for USDA program benefits on the farm in violation, but also on all other farms in which that producer has an interest. The result can be a very significant monetary impact on that producer and his or her farming operation.
According to Steinkruger, it’s important for producers to work closely with their local NRCS and FSA offices. Producers should review and understand existing highly erodible land (HEL) and wetland (W) determinations on FSA maps and visit with NRCS regarding what steps are required to ensure that an approved conservation plan is being applied.
With the current market conditions, farm program benefits are an increasingly important part of most producers’ bottom line. “Now more than ever, it’s critical for conservation compliance to be a strategic part of each producer’s operation to ensure eligibility not only for FSA and NRCS programs, but also for crop insurance premium subsidies,” Steinkruger noted.
Derickson said, “Staff at the USDA Service Center will work one-on-one with producers to ensure any new farming operations will protect natural resources and the sustainability of their farm, and don’t put their USDA farm program benefits at risk.”