Conservation initiatives will continue with new farm bill

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RICHMOND—Farm bills provide crop insurance and nutritional assistance, but they also play a vital role in helping farmers conserve natural resources.

“Farm bills include funding for many different conservation programs for farmers,” noted Wilmer Stoneman, director of commodity marketing for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Farmers are the original stewards of our land, and Title II provisions of the farm bill give farmers help conserving important natural resources.”

The existing farm bill, enacted in 2014, provides farmers with cost-share assistance for programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. EQIP includes conservation practices such as cover crops, buffer strips and rotational grazing. The 2014 U.S. Farm Bill expires in September.

The Senate’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill—the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018—which was passed on June 28, will continue the EQIP initiatives. Congressional lawmakers will soon meet to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

“It’s important that lawmakers pass a version of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill that includes funding for these conservation programs that are so crucial in helping farmers continue creating healthy soil and protecting our water resources,” Stoneman explained. “Behind crop insurance, it’s one of the top farm bill issues for Virginia Farm Bureau and our farmers.”

Updated about every five years, the farm bill addresses agriculture and other affairs under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since 1933, farm bills have covered commodity programs, trade, conservation, ag research and food and nutrition programs.

Conservation was one of the primary purposes of the original farm bill back in the 1930s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service organized and worked with local soil and water conservation districts to help farmers with terraces, shelterbelts and other dust-minimizing techniques.

In the 1950s a “soil bank” was created to put the most highly erodible ground back into grass or other conservation uses. The 1985 Farm Bill created the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program, both of which place highly erodible and environmentally sensitive land in conservation for a set number of years. And since 1996, the conservation title of the bill has focused more on working lands cost-share assistance through programs like EQIP and the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Under the 2014 Farm Bill, $28 billion was set aside for conservation practices, which was 5.8 percent of the total budget. Crop insurance and farm commodity spending was estimated at a little over 13 percent of the overall farm bill.

Media: Contact Stoneman at 804-290-1024.

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