The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) helps landowners, land trusts, and other entities protect, restore, and enhance wetlands, grasslands, and working farms and ranches through conservation easements.
Under the Agricultural Land Easements component, NRCS helps American Indian tribes, state and local governments, and nongovernmental organizations protect working agricultural lands and limit nonagricultural uses of the land. Under the Wetland Reserve Easements component, NRCS helps to restore, protect, and enhance enrolled wetlands.
How does ACEP Work?
Landowners who enroll in ACEP retain private ownership of their land but must follow certain land use requirements. They must agree to maintain a specific use of their lands. Examples include:
- Agreeing to limit non-agricultural use of land in an agricultural land easement.
- Agreeing to cease agricultural activity on a wetland easement to protect the conservation value of the wetlands.
Easement holders may lease the rights to undeveloped recreational uses like hiking, bird watching, hunting, and fishing.
NRCS may provide landowners enrolled in easements with both financial assistance and one-on-one technical support to fit their specific land use goals. Easements are also annually monitored to ensure compliance with allowable land uses.
- Keeps agricultural land in family hands.
- Provides a means to remove marginal cropland from production.
- Provides income
- Protects our nation’s best agricultural soils or grasslands
- Preserves wildlife habitat and protects biodiversity, including for threatened and endangered species.
- Protects and restores wetlands and improves water quality.
- Sequesters carbon and helps reduce greenhouse gases.
NRCS accepts ACEP applications on a continuous basis, but sets application cutoff dates as funding allows. The next application cutoff for batching ranking ACEP-WRE applications in Iowa is Jan. 27, 2023. Contact your Iowa NRCS Easement Specialist if you have questions.
Can You Answer “Yes” to any of the following?
- I own agricultural land and I am interested in protecting the agricultural values of that land in perpetuity.
- I own property with wetlands on it that have been altered for the purposes of agricultural production and am interested in removing that land from agricultural production and restoring and protecting that land for at least 30 years or possibly in perpetuity.
- I want to expand my existing conservation efforts to achieve a higher level of environmental stewardship.
- I want to receive compensation for enrolling my land in voluntary conservation programs.
Then the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) may be a good fit for you.
- nonindustrial private forest land.
NRCS will prioritize applications that protect agricultural uses and related conservation values of the land and those that maximize the protection of contiguous acres devoted to agricultural use.
Wetland Reserve Easements
- farmed or converted wetland that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored.
NRCS will prioritize applications based the easement’s potential for protecting and enhancing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.
Agricultural Land Easements
NRCS enters into cooperative agreements with eligible partners. Each easement is required to have an agricultural land easement plan that promotes the long-term viability of the land.
Wetland Reserve Easements
NRCS enters into purchase agreements with eligible private landowners or Indian tribes that include the right for NRCS to develop and implement a wetland reserve restoration easement plan. This plan restores, protects, and enhances the wetland’s functions and values.
Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP)
WREP is a voluntary program through which NRCS signs agreements with eligible partners to leverage resources to carry out high priority wetland protection, restoration and enhancement and to improve wildlife habitat.
Partner benefits through WREP agreements include:
- Wetland restoration and protection in critical areas
- Ability to cost-share restoration or enhancement beyond NRCS requirements through leveraging
- Able to participate in the management or monitoring of selected project locations
- Ability to use innovative restoration methods and practices
Wetland Reserve Easements
To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, landowners may apply at any time at the local USDA Service Center.
NRCS also provides technical and financial assistance directly to private landowners and Indian tribes to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands through the purchase of a wetland reserve easement. For acreage owned by an Indian tribe, there is an additional enrollment option of a 30-year contract.
For wetland reserve easements, NRCS pays all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office, including recording fees, charges for abstracts, survey and appraisal fees, and title insurance.
Wetland Reserve Easement Enrollment
NRCS may enroll wetland reserve eligible land through:
Permanent Easements – Permanent Easements are conservation easements in perpetuity. NRCS pays 100 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 75 to 100 percent of the restoration costs.
30-year Easements – 30-year easements expire after 30 years. Under 30-year easements, NRCS pays 50 to 75 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 50 to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
30-year Contracts – Term easements are easements that are for the maximum duration allowed under applicable State laws. NRCS pays 50 to 75 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the term easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 50 to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
Agricultural Land Easements
NRCS provides financial assistance to eligible partners for purchasing Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) that protect the agricultural use and conservation values of eligible land. In the case of working farms, the program helps farmers and ranchers keep their land in agriculture. The program also protects grazing uses and related conservation values by conserving grassland, including rangeland, pastureland and shrubland. Eligible partners include Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs.
Under the Agricultural Land component, NRCS may contribute up to 50 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement. Where NRCS determines that grasslands of special environmental significance will be protected, NRCS may contribute up to 75 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement.
NRCS accepts ALE applications on a continuous basis, but we rank and batch applications as funding allows. The next ALE application signup cutoff is March 17, 2023.
Ready to get started?
Contact your local service center to start your application.
How to Get Assistance
Do you farm or ranch and want to make improvements to the land that you own or lease?
Natural Resources Conservation Service offers technical and financial assistance to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.
To get started with NRCS, we recommend you stop by your local NRCS field office. We’ll discuss your vision for your land.
NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design and resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you.
We’ll walk you through the application process. To get started on applying for financial assistance, we’ll work with you:
- To fill out an AD 1026, which ensures a conservation plan is in place before lands with highly erodible soils are farmed. It also ensures that identified wetland areas are protected.
- To meet other eligibility certifications.
Once complete, we’ll work with you on the application, or CPA 1200.
Applications for most programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re considered for funding in different ranking periods. Be sure to ask your local NRCS district conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time.
As part of the application process, we’ll check to see if you are eligible. To do this, you’ll need to bring:
- An official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID)
- A property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property; and
- A farm tract number.
If you don’t have a farm tract number, you can get one from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office. You only need a farm tract number if you’re interested in financial assistance.
NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants.
If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done.
Once you sign the contract, you’ll be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, and then you will have a specified amount of time to implement. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work if it meets NRCS standards and specifications.