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

Food & Water Stories

What You Need to Know About the U.S. Farm Bill

Here's why the Farm Bill matters.

The Farm Bill is the largest source of federal funding for the conservation of private land in the United States. Its benefits span much further than any single program or resource concern. The bill gives farmers, ranchers and forest landowners the tools to protect and conserve their land and their way of life.

With the Farm Bill, we can achieve local and landscape-scale ecosystem benefits where they are needed most, like protecting the Mississippi River and ensuring habitat for the greater sage-grouse. This also includes preventing the conversion of native prairie or grassland into cropland.

The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 is a win for the American farmer and the conservation of our country’s private lands.

Kameran Onley Director of U.S. Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy

Farmers and ranchers can use Farm Bill programs to reduce the amount of nutrients and sediments entering our waterways, thereby improving the country’s water quality and supply. These programs can also drive sustainable water management practices, especially needed in drought and flood-prone areas.

Farm Bill programs also increase the long-term protection of our forests and all their benefits for threatened species, clean air and drinking water, and public health. This includes protection from wildfire, insects and diseases.

In the 2018 Farm Bill, The Nature Conservancy teamed up with farmers, ranchers, and partners across the country to promote these conservation values, ensuring clean water, healthy lands, and thriving rural communities.

"The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 is a win for the American farmer and the conservation of our country’s private lands," says Kameran Onley, director of U.S. Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy. "The bill’s much-needed boosts in funding for priority conservation programs, combined with important forestry provisions, will give farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners the tools to protect and conserve their land and their way of life."

Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Watermen on the Chesapeake Bay.
KEEPING WATERS CLEAN is one of the aims of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. © Jason Houston

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) makes this approach possible. Starting with federal resources, RCPP brings new partners and new funding to the conservation table, maximizing the impact.

The program, which was introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill, provides $300 million each year in federal funding to help more members of the agricultural community adopt conservation practices in areas that need it the most.

This resource empowers communities and drives public-private partnerships to find local, innovative solutions to difficult natural resource challenges for watersheds and landscapes. The program has mobilized more than 2,000 conservation partners who have invested about $1.4 billion to on-the-ground funding, which doubles the amount of federal funding for these projects.

That’s a lot of people, a lot of dollars and a lot of commitment to vital conservation programs.

TNC is one of RCPP’s largest partners, leading projects across the country. TNC's RCPP projets include protecting the most intact native grazing lands remaining in Kansas and Oklahoma, protecting wildlife and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, sequestering carbon in the fertile fields of Nebraska, and reducing stream bank erosion while safeguarding biologically rich river systems in Alabama and Arkansas.

In the 2018 Farm Bill, TNC helped make this program even better by promoting innovation and enabling new partnerships by advocating for additional resources and flexibility for RCPP.

Easement Programs

A lush, green and wild meadow with vibrant wildflowers.
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

Conservation programs in the Farm Bill play a crucial role protecting and supporting farms, ranches and wetlands with benefits to people and nature reaching far and wide across America.

Conservation easements are one of the most powerful and effective 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 Nature Conservancy’s Mississippi state program, for example, is on the cusp of a significant floodplain restoration project protecting nearly 6,000 acres through agricultural wetland easements at Loch Leven in Wilkinson County. An existing ring levee will be enhanced to reconnect the Mississippi River with its historic floodplain, benefiting critical wetland habitat and surrounding communities.

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) 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 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. 

In the 2018 Farm Bill, TNC successfully fought to restore funding for ACEP up to $450 million each year, better enhancing our ability to conserve land, water and the quality of life for millions of Americans.

Soil Health

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

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.

Basically, healthy soil means healthy water and land for people and nature.

The Farm Bill can help 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.

In the 2018 Farm Bill, TNC successfully advocated for provisions that would better utilize private sector experts, with the potential to more than double the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s currently limited capacity to enroll new cropland acres in conservation agriculture practices. We believe at least 5 million acres should be enrolled annually dedicated to the adoption of soil health and nutrient stewardship practices like cover crops, crop rotation, no-till, and the 4R approach to nutrient application.

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

An interdisciplinary team of TNC scientists, environmental economists and agriculture experts analyzed why soil health is one of the most crucial conservation issues today. They found that by improving soil health on more than half of U.S. soy, wheat and corn croplands, we could deliver up to $7.4 billion in environmental and economic benefits annually by 2025.