Implementing Farm Bill Conservation Programs

Farm Bill Conservation Programs Support Farmers and Reduce Water Pollution

Every five years or so since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, our federal government has debated, passed and signed an increasingly complex bill that dictates food and farm policy. From food stamps to farm fields and everything in between, the contents of each successive Farm Bill are rigorously discussed and dissected. The latest Farm Bill, officially known as the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 will dictate policy from 2019-2023 and is expected to cost over $420 billion dollars.

One section that is always ripe for debate is the Farm Bill Conservation Programs. These programs offer a direct connection to the inspiration behind the original Farm Bill of the 1930s—valuable soil blowing away from fields. They are designed to offer smart solutions to help farmers reduce soil loss and negative environmental impacts through technical advice, cost sharing, and land payments. These programs help prevent complete degradation of numerous ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and watersheds. Farm Bill conservation programs offer some of the most cost-effective solutions available to the agricultural and ranching communities, while providing vital environmental protection and employment opportunities in rural America.

Agriculture and water health are entirely linked. Soil, fertilizers and other chemicals that wash away from farm fields often end up in streams, rivers, and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. That’s why the contents of each Farm Bill are a big deal for people who care about clean water and healthy rivers.


Encouraging Healthy Soil Helps Farmers and Rivers

The vast Mississippi River region is a major agricultural producer for the United States, as well as home to several major cities, all of which contribute the nutrients that result in hypoxia offshore in the Gulf.

Hypoxia is a condition of low oxygen levels in water and it can occur in fresh or salt water. Large nutrient loads wash into the Mississippi River and its tributaries with rain and snow melt. These nutrients wash away from farm fields and from paved areas. The nutrients enter the Gulf of Mexico as the water makes its way down River. These nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, which are so essential for good crops, also feed large algae blooms offshore. When the algae blooms decay and sink and are eaten by zooplankton, they decompose and use up most of the oxygen in the water.

What’s left is water without enough dissolved oxygen in it to support life. Anything that can flee the area does. Everything else dies. There’s a reason the hypoxic zone is frequently referred to as The Dead Zone.

Therefore, nutrient runoff from agricultural fields isn’t just a serious financial problem for farmers; it’s also literally a life and death situation for ocean life—and the fishers, shrimpers, and communities who depend on that life for their own survival.


How Farm Bill Conservation Programs Can Reduce Gulf Dead Zone

Programs and funding in the 2018 Farm Bill help reduce harmful algae blooms, and ultimately can reduce the size of the Gulf Dead Zone, by ensuring that farmers and ranchers have access to a variety of tools that help reduce water pollution and protect soil health.

Farmers rely on the programs of the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title programs to help them make their farms more resilient and productive. But these programs can only help farmers if they are funded.

Therefore, the Mississippi River Network urges a minimum of current funding levels for priority conservation programs to encourage land stewardship in the agricultural and ranching communities. The Conservation Title experienced major cuts in the 2014 Farm Bill and was subject to repeated annual cuts through sequestration and the appropriations process. The 2018 Farm Bill, and its ongoing appropriations processes, must maintain funding for the following conservation programs and initiatives:

  • Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
  • Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
  • Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), including Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR)
  • Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI)

In addition to funding these necessary programs and initiatives to the fullest extent, legislators must also ensure that the Mississippi River Basin Critical Conservation Area in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) accounts for water quality benefits and makes information publicly available.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program facilitates partnerships among Natural Resource Conservation Service offices, state agencies, and non-governmental organizations to collaborate on efforts to mitigate environmental threats in designated Critical Conservation Areas. As a federally-designated Critical Conservation Area, the Mississippi River Basin RCPP Partnership Program’s goal is to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment entering the watersheds from private lands. MRN pushes for continued and increased Congressional funding of this critical federal farm bill conservation program in the Mississippi River Basin Critical Conservation Area, as well as transparent monitoring and reporting of the program.

Navigating the benefits and resources of these conservation programs can be complicated, and many beneficiaries simply don’t have the time or expertise to figure it all out. Therefore, Congress must provide adequate funding for USDA Conservation Technical Assistance. This program connects members of the agricultural community with tools and resources so they can fully reap the benefits of the conservation titles.  At the bare minimum, Congress must maintain at least $790.7 million in discretionary funding for Conservation Technical Assistance.

The Farm Bill Conservation Programs are critical for the health of America’s Rivers—and the Mississippi River is no exception. And best of all, when these programs are fully funded, monitored and reported, both the agricultural community and our rivers benefit. With the Farm Bill Conservation Programs everybody wins!

Support full funding for Farm Bill Conservation Programs today.

Step 1

Become a River Citizen

Yes! The River can count on me!

I am committed to protecting the Mississippi River and will take at least three actions to care for this valuable resource. Please keep me informed about actions I can take to protect the Mississippi River as a River Citizen:


Step 2

Educate Yourself

The 1 Mississippi program is implemented by the Mississippi River Network and is the nation’s only grassroots outreach effort focused on the entire Mississippi River with the goal to educate the public on the urgent issues facing the River.  The Mississippi River Network is a coalition of over 55 organizations working toward a healthy and resilient River for the land, water, wildlife, and people.

Nutrient pollution

Importance of floodplains and wetlands

Farm bill conservation programs


Step 3

Take Action

There are many ways you can take action for a healthy Mississippi River. We have a list of 10 actions you can take now. Check out our action center for current action alerts, bigger projects we are working on, and ways to get involved. You can also check out our events calendar to see what events are happening in your area.

10 actions you can take now!

The Action Center

Events Calendar

Which of these River-friendly actions are most important to you?