On Nov. 16, 2023, President Biden signed into law H.R. 6363, the Further Continuing Appropriations and Other Extensions Act, 2024, which extended the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, more commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill. This extension allows authorized programs to continue through Sept. 30, 2024.
The 2018 Farm Bill made updates to NRCS programs, which are outlined below as well as the What's New with NRCS Programs fact sheet. In general, the Farm Bill:
- Strengthened and expanded support to producers who address significant natural resource concerns through adoption of conservation practices and activities.
- Ensured that voluntary conservation programs balance farm productivity with conservation benefits so the most fertile and productive lands remain in production while land retired for conservation purposes favors more environmentally sensitive acres.
- Supported conservation programs that ensure cost-effective financial assistance for improved soil health, water and air quality, and other natural resource benefits.
- Encouraged entry into farming through increased access to land and capital for young, beginning, veteran, and underrepresented farmers.
More detailed information can be found on the 2018 Farm Bill Rules webpage. Also, the Farmers' Guide to Farm Bill Programs is a great resource for NRCS, Farm Service Agency, and Risk Management Agency programs made possible through the Farm Bill.
In addition to the Farm Bill, the Inflation Reduction Act enacted in August 2022 provided additional support for these programs.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
- Authorized assistance to partners who pursue ‘Buy-Protect-Sell’ transactions.
- Required a conservation plan for highly erodible land that will be protected by an agricultural land easement.
- Increased flexibility for partners to meet cost-share matching requirements.
- Identified water quality as a program purpose for enrollment of wetland reserve easements.
- Expanded wetland types eligible for restoration and management under wetland reserve easements.
Conservation Stewardship Program
- Increased payment rates for adoption of cover crop rotations and advanced grazing management activities.
- Authorized contract extensions to facilitate renewal under new program authority.
- Transformed funding mechanism for program contracts, authorizing specified annual funding levels.
- Provided specific support for organic and transitioning to organic production activities.
- Included special grassland conservation initiative for certain producers who have maintained cropland base acres.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program
- Added potential resource concerns related to beneficial cost-effective operation changes.
- Raised cap for organic producers to $140,000 over six years.
- New enrollment option through incentive contracts to address priority resource concerns.
- Required advance payment option be offered to historically underserved producers.
- Authorized direct program assistance to irrigation districts, including acequias and other entities, for purposes of improving water use efficiencies.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program
- Simplified funding authorities for program implementation.
- Authorized Regional Conservation Partnership Program contracts rather than requiring enrollment through other program authorities.
- Expands flexibility for alternative funding arrangements with partners.
- Expands availability of watershed program authorities to projects outside critical conservation areas.