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2018 Farm Bill Breakdown

Following nearly two years of intense debate and several suspenseful months in farm bill limbo, today the President signed the “Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018,” otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill

After two months of negotiations, the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee leaders released a final bill that makes long-overdue investments in the future of American agriculture. This bill will better connect beginning and socially disadvantaged producers with the tools and resources they need to start and sustain vibrant food and farm businesses. It would also help both established and beginning farmers to tap growing markets by providing permanent, mandatory funding for local and regional food production and organic research.

The bill provides permanent, baseline funding and also makes significant policy improvements to the following tiny but mighty farm bill programs: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as “Section 2501”), Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP). The final farm bill combines BFRDP and Section 2501 into the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, and merges VAPG and FMLFPP into the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).

The final bill also rejects the House’s efforts to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program(CSP) and preserves current funding across the conservation title. The conference report also makes important policy improvements to encourage cover cropping, resource-conserving crop rotation, and advanced grazing systems.

Farmers rely on the programs of the farm bill’s Conservation Title programs to help them make their farms more resilient and productive. Programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provide the technical and financial resources for farmers to improve the soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitats on and surrounding their operations. The sustainability and risk management benefits of implementing agriculture conservation activities are huge, and  the annual funding level for the conservation title programs approaches $6 billion a year. Not surprisingly, then, the Conservation Title was one of the most challenging and controversial titles of the farm bill to negotiate.

The final farm bill takes the Senate’s structural approach to the Conservation Title. The bill protects against cuts to total conservation funding and retains the full farm bill suite of conservation programs –including leaving CSP as a standalone program. We also applaud farm bill leaders for including key policy provisions to strengthen conservation programs and increase benefits for soil health and water quality. Many of these provisions were included in the SOIL Stewardship Act (H.R. 5188/ S. 2875) and the GROW Act (S. 2557). NSAC strongly endorsed both these bills, and thanks the Senators and Representatives who championed these and other conservation priorities in the final bill.

While the new farm bill makes some important strides forward on conservation, long-term funding for working lands conservation programs will be significantly cut. The bill cuts future funding from CSP, and will result in $5.2 billion less funds available for working lands conservation in the next farm bill. This all but guarantees a tough, uphill battle to restore working lands and comprehensive conservation funding in the future.

Below, is a summary of the key takeaways on how the final bill approaches programs and policies that support conservation:

  • Protects total funding levels for the Conservation Title as a whole.
  • Incentivizes the adoption of cost-effective, high payoff activities within CSP by increasing payment levels for cover crops, resource conserving crop rotations, and management-intensive rotational grazing.
  • Authorizes a CSP payment for financial and technical assistance to support the development of comprehensive conservation plans, which are fundamental to reaching higher levels of stewardship. The authorized payment would reflect the complexity of a plan’s development.
  • Ensures that all beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers enrolling in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) have the option to receive 50 percent of their cost share payment up front.
  • Increases the wildlife habitat set-aside with EQIP from 5 to 10 percent of total funding.
  • Authorizes a CSP “organic initiative,” including an allocation of funds for certified organic participants and those transitioning to organic production.
  • Increases funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) to $450 million per year for all five years of the farm bill and beyond. ACEP funds wetland restoration and farmland protection.
  • Within ACEP, prioritizes projects that maintain farm viability and includes affordability protections.
  • Establishes a Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative within the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and reserves 40 percent of total continuous CRP acreage for water quality beneficial conservation buffer practices through CLEAR.
  • Includes the Senate provision to increase funding for the Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP) from $33 million to $50 million over the next five years – including $5 million for dedicated outreach to connect retiring farmers with beginning farmers, veterans, and farmers of color.
  • The bill also expands eligibility to all CRP contract holders, not just retiring farmers. Additionally, within CRP-TIP, participating farmers are now able to get a two-year head start on certifying land coming out of CRP into organic production.
  • Increases CRP Grassland Initiative to 2 million acres by 2023, through which ranchers can maintain and enhance conservation cover on working grazing lands.
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