2023 Farm Bill Priorities
The Farm Bill’s conservation title is the single largest source of conservation funding for private lands in the United States, providing billions of dollars impacting hundreds of millions of acres. These programs create and enhance habitat on private lands, as well as provide public hunting access opportunities.
These accomplishments are possible through voluntary, incentive-based programs that help farmers, ranchers, and landowners implement conservation practices on their land. Reauthorized approximately every five years, the current Farm Bill expires in September 2023, which is why now is the time for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members across the country to contact their senators and representatives and urge them to support a strong conservation title in the 2023 Farm Bill.
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever volunteers, members, staff, and partners work hand-in-hand with America’s farmers, ranchers, and landowners to implement conservation and wildlife habitat projects as part of their agricultural operations. Our nationwide Farm Bill Biologists program is supported through diverse partnerships with USDA, state wildlife agencies, and others, and provides a “boots-on-the-ground” delivery system collaborating with local producers to educate and assist with enrollment in various voluntary incentive-based conservation programs.
At PF & QF we work with the entire suite of USDA conservation programs and have extensive experience delivering these programs and seeing their immense impacts on wildlife, soil health, and water quality. This on-the-ground experience has driven our policy work on agriculture and conservation policy for decades and informs our recommendations for the 2023 Farm Bill.
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are committed to working with Congress to pass a bipartisan Farm Bill that:
» Supports voluntary, incentive-based programs that build agricultural resilience, promote private lands stewardship, and sustain rural communities;
» Emphasizes conservation practices that address multiple resource concerns, including wildlife habitat, soil health, and water quality;
» Provides USDA with adequate capacity for conservation planning and program delivery; and
» Ensures all farmers, ranchers, and landowners have access to conservation programs to maximize their effectiveness and impact.
The Farm Bill’s conservation title authorizes several programs that provide a variety of tools and resources for producers to utilize on their operations, including cost-share for implementing practices on land in active agricultural production, incentives for establishing conservation cover and wildlife habitat on highly erodible and environmentally sensitive lands, and easements to restore wetlands, grasslands, and forestland. It is critical that the entire suite of Farm Bill conservation programs is supported with robust funding. But the funding is only part of the equation. With each Farm Bill comes opportunities to improve the policies that guide program implementation, to increase program accessibility and enhance their impact both on and off the farm. PF & QF have identified a number of areas and programs where we see these opportunities:
Conservation Reserve Program
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is one of the nation’s longest standing and most successful private lands conservation programs. Reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill with a 27-million-acre cap, the combination of implementation challenges and economic conditions have resulted in only 23 million acres enrolled in the program at the end of 2022. We must strengthen the program to allow it to reach full enrollment under the authorized acreage cap and put the program on a trajectory towards historical levels in order to ensure that CRP continues to work for producers, wildlife, and rural communities and its benefits endure into the future.
To do this, it is critical that rental rates, cost-sharing, and incentives fairly compensate landowners for enrolled land, as well as for the management activities undertaken to enhance and maintain the soil, water, and wildlife benefits throughout the length of the contract. The program should also continue to promote grazing as a tool for management and economic use of cover by helping establish grazing infrastructure and providing flexibility for producers to graze enrolled acres while conserving wildlife habitat. Many of these specific recommendations can be found in the CRP Improvement Act, introduced by Senators John Thune and Amy Klobuchar.
Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program
The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to provide grants to state fish and wildlife agencies to increase public access to private lands for hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent recreation. Known in many states as “Walk-in Areas,” this funding has led to millions of additional acres being made accessible thanks to landowners voluntarily opening their lands for these activities. VPA-HIP received $50 million in the 2018 Farm Bill, and we are urging Congress to increase this to $150 million in the next Farm Bill to meet the high demand from states and interested landowners.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program
As the largest “working lands” program in the Farm Bill, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides cost-share and incentive payments to producers to install and implement conservation practices on cropland, rangeland, and forestland. In the 2018 Farm Bill, PF & QF helped secure a provision requiring that at least 10 percent of EQIP funding goes to wildlife conservation practices. This funding has been critical for our work restoring and enhancing upland habitat on and around working lands across the country, including incentivizing timber management practices on private forest land to benefit bobwhite quail and other species.
EQIP and other NRCS programs play a crucial role in supporting the successful Working Lands for Wildlife partnership. The 2018 Farm Bill codified Working Lands for Wildlife and we encourage Congress and USDA to continue to support dedicated funding for priority landscapes and species, such as bobwhite quail, sage grouse, lesser prairie chicken, and others.
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) helps to restore and protect grasslands, wetlands, and working farms and ranches through conservation easements. In the 2018 Farm Bill, PF & QF worked tirelessly with our partners to increase funding from $250 million to $450 million per year, and it is critical that Congress provide robust funding for ACEP to meet the significant demand from farmers, ranchers, and landowners.
We will continue work with Congress and USDA to identify opportunities for stewardship and enhancement of habitat on grasslands easements as well as wetlands easements, which often feature an upland habitat or bottomland hardwood component, depending on region.
There is also tremendous opportunity for habitat conservation under the Grasslands of Special Significance component of ACEP, which offers an enhanced federal investment in easements on high priority working grasslands. We are committed to working to increase the investment in and effectiveness of these critical tools for grasslands conservation.
In addition, PF & QF are working with partners to authorize a Forest Conservation Easement Program, outside of and as a complement to ACEP. We believe this program should prioritize at-risk species habitat and the implementation of forest management plans on working forests, and provide funding for the restoration, enhancement, and management of ecologically diverse forests.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) was first authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and funds public-private partnerships between stakeholders and USDA to enhance soil, water, and wildlife conservation on a landscape scale. PF & QF will continue to support this important program that leverages local, state, and other non-federal funding to restore and enhance wildlife habitat, improve soil health, and increase water quality on private lands.
Many of the partnerships supported by RCPP have seen incredible success in delivering conservation opportunities to farmers and ranchers, however, there is a critical need to streamline and improve the program to ensure its continued success. By increasing flexibility and lowering the barrier to entry for partners, we can unlock the full potential of RCPP across the country.
Sodsaver and Conservation Compliance
The linkage of conservation compliance and crop insurance, along with a strong Sodsaver provision, is critical for the long-term protection and conservation of native grasslands, wetlands, and highly erodible lands. We strongly support continuing these provisions to ensure this longstanding conservation compact remains in place.
For more information contact: Jim Inglis at firstname.lastname@example.org or Andrew Schmidt at email@example.com, from the PF & QF Government Affairs team.