Lawmakers decided as part of the 2018 farm policy law to expand the voluntary Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent in exchange for idling fragile farmland for 10 years or longer. Although the expansion was expected to be popular — offering steady income after years of low commodity prices — it hasn't panned out. Enrollment continues a decline that began in 2007.
General Mills, ADM, Cargill, McDonalds, and The Nature Conservancy are among 10 companies and nonprofit organizations that are forming a national market by 2022 to incentivize the adoption of farming practices that build soil carbon and improve water conservation.
In a survey of over 800 farmers and ranchers across five states, the Center for Rural Affairs found overwhelming support for the farm bill's Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The Nebraska-based organization, which advocates for environmental stewardship and rural communities, concluded that the CSP should continue to exist and be funded as a standalone farm-bill initiative.
The congressionally created Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research has announced a $20-million research and education project to speed the adoption of soil management systems nationwide.
"Simple and familiar conservation practices, if applied in the right places," are key to reducing worrisome levels of nitrates and other types of farm runoff in the drinking water of rural communities, says the Environmental Working Group. In a report, "Trouble in farm country," the green group said stewardship of all working land should be a requirement for growers who want farm and crop insurance subsidies.
Farmers taking part in a survey about cover crops reported a nearly 3-percent increase in wheat yields when cover crops are used in the offseason, says the Conservation Technology Information Center. This was the first time the survey compiled enough responses to calculate the impact on wheat; past surveys associated cover crops with higher corn and soybean yields.
The USDA will open a three-month enrollment period on Nov. 14 for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers and ranchers for making soil, water and wildlife conservation a part of their daily operations. A small-farm group says producers should submit an initial application if they're interested in the program, but it says USDA has yet to fully describe its changes to CSP.
The government rarely checks to see if farmers carry out soil and water conservation duties that are part of the farm subsidy program, said Agri-Pulse, citing a report from the USDA's inspector general. The IG reported that random sample reviews were conducted in only one of USDA's farm support programs from 2012-14.
The largest U.S. farm organization announced an online survey open to all farmers and ranchers to rate their experiences with 10 USDA programs on soil and water conservation, rural energy, farmers markets, and farm operating and land ownership loans.