Food & Water Stories

What You Need to Know About the Farm Bill

Two cowboys riding horses on a ranch.
Cowboys on Parker Ranch Bill and son Tom Parker sold their ranch's development rights to TNC in 2008. Parker Ranch and two other holdings are part of 270,000 acres now protected. © Ian Shive

The Farm Bill is the nation’s largest investment in the voluntary and successful conservation, restoration and management of America’s private lands.

The Farm Bill is the largest source of federal funding for conserving, restoring and managing private land, including grasslands, forests, ranchlands and croplands, in the United States. Over 70% of the land in the lower 48 is privately owned, making it eligible for Farm Bill programs that help spur healthier soils, cleaner water, carbon sequestration and habitat conservation.

The bill supports voluntary, incentive-based programs that help farmers and other landowners conserve their land and way of life while addressing climate change. From incentivizing climate-smart agricultural practices to opening doors for permanent conservation through agricultural conservation easements, this critical bipartisan legislation provides $6 billion annually for conservation that benefits every single state in the country.

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Urge Congress to pass a Farm Bill that supports conservation and communities.

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Landscape view of a large herd of cattle being driven across rolling green hills.
Cattle Drive TNC is using our 60,000-acre Matador Ranch as a center for learning that allows researchers and ranchers to work together. © Charlie Messerly/TNC
Aerial view looking straight down at a green tractor plowing an agricultural field.
Water for Life Rice is harvested at Evans Farms in Symonds, Mississippi, one of many family farms that rely on steady water supplies from the Mississippi River for their livelihood. © Rory Doyle

The Farm Bill Impacts All Americans

  • Green icon of trees.


    Farmers and ranchers have voluntarily enrolled 140 million acres in conservation programs through the Farm Bill

  • Green icon of three people.


    Jobs supported by the agriculture industry

  • Green icon of land with fence.


    In the lower 48 states, 70% of land is privately owned and eligible for Farm Bill programs.

  • Green icon of a tractor.


    In the U.S, there are 2 million farms covering 475 million acres of land.

Early morning aerial photograph of the landscape, forest and farm fields along the Snake River north of Mora, Minnesota.
FARMING ALONG THE SNAKE RIVER An early morning along the Snake River north of Mora, Minnesota. There are more than 2 million farms in the United States that could benefit from Farm Bill programs. © Mark Godfrey/TNC

Early morning aerial photograph of the landscape, forest and farm fields along the Snake River north of Mora, Minnesota.

The Farm Bill is one of our biggest opportunities to make meaningful, substantial gains for conservation. 

The 2018 Farm Bill was the most conservation-focused yet, increasing funding for easements that help farmers conserve their lands, enacting new policies to improve the management of private forest lands, and many other steps.

Congress only renews the Farm Bill every five years, so we need to build on the success of 2018 to prioritize conservation while supporting the rural communities that care for and work on these lands.

In November 2023, Congress voted to extend the current Farm Bill for one year – until September 30, 2024. Farm Bill programs have been in limbo since the bill expired at the end of September so this extension ensures there will not be a gap in funding for programs that support farmers, ranchers and conservation efforts across the country. 

As Congress continues to debate these vital measures, we urge them to invest in a Farm Bill that will support healthy food and soils, clean water, strong communities and a robust economy.

A person carried a tray while walking through agricultural crops, including red peppers, which are growing in the foreground.
The Blaney Farm The Farm Bill can bolster climate-smart agricultural practices and production through increased technical support and training to help farmers meet the challenges of the climate crisis. © Alex Snyder/TNC

Critical Farm Bill Programs and Policies

Two people ride in a flat-bottomed boat on the flat waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
CLEAN WATERS Keeping waters clean is one of the aims of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. © Jason Houston

Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Increasing the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water and other natural resources on a scale large enough to make a significant impact is daunting at times—but it’s important work that benefits us all. The best approach is often working with partners in strategic areas to address the most critical conservation needs with as many hands as possible.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill, makes this approach possible. Starting with federal resources, RCPP brings new partners and new funding to the conservation table, maximizing the impact.

RCPP empowers communities and drives public-private partnerships to find local, innovative solutions to complex natural resource challenges for watersheds and landscapes. To date, RCPP has mobilized more than 2,000 conservation partners who have invested about $1.4 billion, doubling the amount of federal funding for these projects.

A lush, green and wild meadow with vibrant wildflowers.
Safeguarding Lands Conservation easements are legally binding agreements that keep property in private hands and are important for safeguarding wildlife habitat and other natural resources. © Rick McEwan

Easement Programs

Conservation easements are one of the most potent and practical tools available for the permanent conservation of private lands in the United States. They are voluntary, legally binding agreements that limit certain types of uses or prevent development from taking place on a piece of property now and in the future, protecting the property’s ecological and open space values.

For more than 40 years, easements have protected wildlife habitat and open space from development, kept land in private hands and generated significant benefits for the public.

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program in the Farm Bill includes two vital components: Agricultural Land Easements and Wetlands Reserve Easements. Agricultural Land Easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing the conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses, while Wetlands Reserve Easements improve water quality and supply, provide habitat for fish and wildlife and support outdoor recreation. 

A close-up of a person's hand holding rich, brown soil.
It's In Our Hands Improving soil health Is one of the most important things we can do—for all of us. © Devan King/The Nature Conservancy

Soil Health

Healthy soil is the cornerstone of life on Earth. It facilitates ecosystem diversity, amplifies food production, allows for effective water filtration and storage and captures soil carbon, which helps reduce the impacts of increasingly variable weather patterns.

The Farm Bill helps improve soil health by increasing the number of acres managed with soil health and nutrient stewardship practices through programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Suppose farmers can manage nutrients more efficiently to reduce runoff and restore wetlands to capture nutrients escaping their fields. In that case, it will lead to cleaner waterways and drinking water. And, since excessive nutrient runoff from farms and other sources contributes to algal blooms, it would slow the growth of dead zones that contaminate drinking water and suffocate aquatic life.

An aerial view of a river winding through a green landscape.
Louisiana The Farm Bill has improved water quality and can help farmers and other water users continue to find solutions that are both sustainable and best suited to their local needs. © Carlton Ward Jr/TNC