It’s Farm Bill time again, and as usual there is heightened scrutiny of federal conservation programs that many growers are utilizing to improve the sustainability of their operations.

It looks like talks are stalled until after the Easter recess. So far, here’s what is noteworthy:

  • When President Trump took office he proposed doing away with the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and rolling it into the larger EQUIP program and spending $60 million more per year on EQIP. In his 2019 budget, CSP and the Regional Conservation and Partnership Programs would be shuttered.
  • Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., who serves on House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway’s committee, introduced the Strengthening Our Investment in Land Stewardship Act (SOIL Stewardship Act) that would keep CSP as a standalone program while attempting to make the programs work better together. 
  • The bill would allow USDA to enroll 10 million new acres a year in CSP and maintain EQIP at $1.75 billion per year. The bill also would set up a process for participants to easily graduate from EQIP assistance to CSP contracts. It would also increase the average CSP payment rate to $23 per acre and provide supplemental payments for “high-level” conservation practices, including cover crops and rotational grazing.
  • Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and two Democratic co-sponsors introduced the GROW Act (Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work) that would maintain enrollment and funding for CSP and EQIP and freeze the CSP program at 24 million acres, putting new restrictions on rental rates and the type of land that can be enrolled.
  • House lawmakers are expected to request an increase of the current 25 million-acre limit for acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to 30 million acres, paid for by a new cap on payment rates, Agri-Pulse reported.  The Conservation Reserve Program peaked at 37 million acres in 2007 and has declined to 24 million acres today.
  • Click here to view the USDA’s Farm Bill and Legislative Principles for 2018.

All of this — along with concerns about NAFTA renegotiations and potential trade wars with other countries — is probably enough to give the average U.S. farmer a migraine.

While many lawmakers probably revel in this turn-of-the-wheel bureaucratic inertia, it’s not very helpful to farmers trying to make real-world decisions about continuing their conservation efforts or starting them at all.

Since the early 1970s, no-till practices have grown from a few million acres to nearly 100 million acres in the U.S, driven not only by peer pressure or financial necessity but also by incentives like EQIP and CSP. Programs like this are especially important for newer tools like cover crops that take some local adaptation to help make them successful.

Our policymakers in Washington have a duty, in my opinion, to support the adoption of money-saving, scientifically sound farming methods like no-tilling, cover crops and rotational grazing that can both help clean our waterways and allow our farmers stay financially competitive in a volatile world market.

Here’s hoping whatever Farm Bill is produced by legislative maneuvering this year results in effective and properly funded conservation programs that promote what diverse no-till systems have to offer.