Producers and landowners have the opportunity to protect their land and improve its value through several programs available from several federal agencies. Typically, the stated objectives of these programs are “to help producers and landowners make conservation improvements, build resilience and reduce the impacts of climate change”.
Implementing these programs can protect land values and can also add value to land at the same time. While individual programs are too numerous to mention in an article, major federal agencies that have programs available to benefit growers and landowners include the US Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service; USDA-Farm Service Agency; USDA-Rural Development; USDA-Risk Management Agency, US Forest Service; United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Environmental Protection Agency; and the Small Business Administration. The programs discussed in this article focus more on programs that can directly improve the land, protect and increase its value.
Most producers are familiar with the NRCS and FSA programs. The NRCS recently released information on key programs available in federal fiscal year 2022, which began on October 1. These programs include the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The NRCS accepts applications year round, but advises growers to contact their local office as states set deadlines. Applications received after these dates are considered the following year.
These programs are offered on a “cost share” basis, which means that the producer and the NRCS each pay a percentage of the cost of the conservation practice. Conservation districts work with the NRCS and identify local resource issues and prioritize necessary conservation practices at the county level. This is called ‘locally led’, which means that landowners and local producers have a voice in the process. Producers voice their opinions by filling out surveys and attending locally run meetings. The NRCS takes these local priorities into account in the approval process for shared-cost assistance requests.
More than 170 firms are eligible for shared-cost assistance under the EQIP program. PSC payments support producers who go to great lengths to improve their entire farm or ranch using advanced conservation practices. Producers can apply to list wetlands, farmlands and grasslands in easements for long-term protection under CAPE. Another program under ACEP is the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership. The NRCS engages other partners to leverage resources to protect and restore high priority wetlands and enhance wildlife habitat. A wetland reserve easement is part of this program. Information on NRCS programs can be found at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/.
FSA programs are designed to provide financial resources to producers for a variety of purposes. The FSA administers agricultural loan, commodity, conservation and disaster relief programs. FSA programs are made locally relevant through the use of an elected FSA county committee. The FSA administers the conservation reserve program. This is a program that provides income for producers to take land out of production and put it back into grassland. The FSA cost shares the expense of the practices needed to establish the grass and provides an annual payment per acre for the agreed period, ranging from 10 to 15 years. Establishing grass on marginal land can reduce erosion and improve wildlife habitat.
The long-term CRP arrangement can increase the value of the property to the extent that it stabilizes the economic return that can be expected from the land. It is suggested that for producers attempting to extend their CRP contract, it is important to learn about possible incentives to commit to improving water quality over the long term. The FSA offers loans to beginning farmers to buy land as well as operating loans. Information on FSA programs is available at https://www.fsa.usda.gov/.
The FWS has several programs that can help property owners who wish to make improvements to wildlife habitat. Land managed for wildlife habitat can both protect and enhance property value. Information regarding fishing and wildlife programs can be found at https://www.fws.gov/. The Farm Bill created a joint program between FWS and NRCS called Working Lands for Wildlife. This program targets seven species for accelerated conservation practices. More information about this program can be found on the NRCS website.
EPA programs are available at https://www.epa.gov/. Landowners who may have sites of potential environmental concern, who border a site, or are considering purchasing land that may have a site can contact the EPA for an assessment. Landowners interested in site mitigation may be eligible for assistance through the EPA or in partnership with other agencies.
Accessing federal programs to improve the land is a great way to protect and enhance property value in the most cost effective manner. Even without federal cost sharing, agricultural producers and landowners can receive technical assistance from these agencies at no cost.
Federal agencies operate websites, and property owners can sign up to receive free newsletters or program notices. It is important to know the agencies and their programs, and to be familiar with the people in the local offices, when looking to find programs that will help your farm operations.