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Conservation Compliance - HEL Determinations

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Highly Erodible Land Determinations

The Food Security Act's highly erodible land (HEL) provisions are designed to protect the Nation's long-term capability to produce food and fiber. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is responsible for providing program participants HEL determinations to assist them in making informed land management decisions.

What is a HEL determination?

A HEL determination identifies fields subject to HEL conservation provisions. The determination consists of Form NRCS-CPA-026 "Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Determination" which documents the fields and acreage of HEL, along with a map labeling fields HEL or NHEL (non-highly erodible land).

HEL is land that can erode at an excessive rate because of soil properties, leading to long-term decreased productivity. HEL is designated on a field basis and based on the proportion of the total field acreage that contains HEL soils.

How do you find out if a HEL determination exists on your land?

You may contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to obtain the most current HEL determination, if one already exists.

How do you request a HEL determination when planning to put new land into production?

Producers proposing to produce agricultural commodities on land that does not have a current HEL determination, must notify FSA on Form AD-1026 "Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC) and Wetland Conservation (WC) Certification"and delineate the location on a map. The request will be referred to the NRCS to determine if the field is HEL.

NRCS may also complete a new HEL determination if a producer changes field boundaries with FSA.

Now that your request is submitted, what can you expect as NRCS completes the determination?

To identify fields subject to the HEL conservation provisions, NRCS will:

  1. Review the field's soil survey for soils on the HEL Soils list. HEL determinations are based on the HEL Soils List in effect January 1, 1990 for the county soil survey. View the HEL Soil Lists for your State.
    1. The HEL Soils List identifies soils having an erodibility index (EI) of eight or more as HEL. This index expresses the potential erodibility of a soil in relation to its tolerance for erosion without consideration of applied conservation practices or management. Soils can be classified as highly erodible for either wind or water erosion.
    2. Water erosion is partly based on length of slope which is related to the slope of the land. Often, the soil survey indicates a large range for these slope factors. In such cases, these soils are considered Potentially Highly Erodible (PHEL). During the determination process for PHEL soils, NRCS must analyze whether the soil at the site is HEL or NHEL. NRCS will use remote resources or a field review for this evaluation.
  2. NRCS will evaluate the field to determine if it meets the HEL criteria:
    1. 33.3percent or more of the field acreage consists HEL soils, or
    2. 50 acres or more of the field consists HEL soils.
  3. NRCS will complete a HEL determination map by labeling fields meeting the HEL criteria as "HEL" and those not meeting the criteria as "NHEL".
  4. NRCS will complete Form NRCS-CPA-026 "Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Determination," attach the HEL determination map, and issue a preliminary technical determination. See example below.
hel determination example form page thumbnail hel determination example map page thumbnail

Download preliminary technical description (PDF, 128KB)

Download HEL determination map
(PDF, 958KB)


What can you do if you disagree with the determination?

Within 30 days of receipt of the preliminary technical determination, you may provide a written request for a reconsideration and provide additional information at the field review before the determination becomes final.

Learn more about appeal options.

Additional Information

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