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News Release

USDA to Provide $332 Million to Protect and Restore Agricultural Working Lands, Grasslands and Wetlands

Private landowners, tribes, and eligible entities encouraged to apply by May 15

Little Rock, AR April 3, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that U.S. Department of Agriculture is making available $332 million in financial and technical assistance through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).  USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will accept ACEP applications to help productive farm and ranch lands remain in agriculture and to protect the nation's critical wetlands and grasslands, home to diverse wildlife and plant species.

"USDA helps farmers, ranchers, private forest landowners and partners to achieve their conservation goals using our technical expertise, Farm Bill funding and sound conservation planning," Vilsack said.  "Conservation easements are an important tool to help these landowners and partners voluntarily provide long-term protection of our nation's farmland, ranchland, wetlands and grasslands for future generations."

ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS; however, applications for the current funding round must be submitted on or before May 15, 2015.

The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated three previous conservation easement programs into ACEP to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives.  NRCS easement programs have been a critical tool in recent years for advancing landscape-scale private lands conservation.  In FY 2014, NRCS used $328 million in ACEP funding to enroll an estimated 145,000 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through 485 new easements.

“Wetland reserve easements provide habitat for fish and wildlife, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater, and provide opportunities for educational, scientific and outdoor recreational activities,” said Mike Sullivan, Arkansas state conservationist.  “From Fiscal Year 2014 funding, Arkansas NRCS is enrolling 29 easements totaling 6,470 acres, utilizing approximately $12,500,000 for acquisition and $2,900,000 for restoration through ACEP’s Wetland Reserve Easement component.

ACEP's agricultural land easements not only protect the long-term viability of the nation's food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses, but they also support environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space. American Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to purchase conservation easements.  A key change under the new agricultural land easement component is the new "grasslands of special environmental significance" that will protect high-quality grasslands that are under threat of conversion to cropping, urban development and other non-grazing uses.

NRCS provides technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect and enhance wetlands through the purchase of wetland reserve easements, and eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement; tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.

To learn about ACEP and other technical and financial assistance available through NRCS conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or your local USDA Service Center.

This announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill.  The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.  Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships.