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Federal Programs and Policies

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS) implements the key federal policies and programs that protect the nation’s farm and ranch land and assist private landowners with natural resource concerns. Several federal programs help connect farmers and ranchers with land.

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE)

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), administered by USDA NRCS,  provides technical and financial assistance to landowners to conserve and protect farm and ranch lands, grasslands and wetlands. Under the Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) component, USDA NRCS partners with eligible entities to buy agricultural conservation easements on working agricultural lands, keeping land available for agriculture and limiting non-farm development. The program also supports agricultural viability by providing liquid capital for farmers to invest in their operations and strengthening the agricultural sector in communities with participating farms.

Conservation Reserve Programs

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland and other environmentally sensitive land to vegetative cover including native grasses, trees, filter strips, habitat buffers or riparian buffers. A variation of the CRP, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) helps farmers protect environmentally sensitive land, decrease erosion, restore wildlife habitat and safeguard ground and surface water. These programs are administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA).

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Conservation Security Program

The Conservation Security Program (CSP)  provides financial and technical assistance to support conservation efforts on tribal and private agricultural land. The program helps producers maintain existing conservation practices and encourages them to implement new practices that will provide additional levels of conservation benefits. CSP is administered by the USDA NRCS.

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Farmland Protection Policy Act

The purpose of the Farmland Protection Policy Act (FPPA) is to minimize the conversion of farm and ranch land through federal activities to non-agricultural uses. The FPPA stipulates that federal programs be compatible with state, local and private efforts to protect farmland. The FPPA also outlines a public education role for USDA and calls for the establishment of a Farmland Information Center, currently fulfilled by AFT’s Farmland Information Center.

National Resources Inventory

The National Resources Inventory (NRI), conducted by USDA NRCS, is a nationwide survey of natural resource conditions and trends on non-federal land. The NRI provides data about soil erosion, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and conservation practices. It also tracks changes in land cover/use. The NRI is the best source for agricultural land conversion data and is typically released every five years beginning in 1982.

Transition Incentives Program

The 2008 Farm Bill authorized the Transition Incentives Program (TIP), a program that encourages landowners with expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts to sell or lease their land to beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers. Current CRP enrollees are offered up to two additional annual rental payments. In exchange, the new landowners or tenants return the land to production using sustainable grazing or farming methods. 

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Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Grants

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is a decentralized competitive grants and education program operating in every state and island protectorate. Funded by the USDA’’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, the program is run by four regions hosted by land grant institutions.

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Value Added Producer Grants

The Value Added Producer Grant program is administered by USDA Rural Development and helps agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and/or marketing of bio-based, value-added products. Each fiscal year, applications are requested through an announcement posted on Grants.gov.

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