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 New --- Crop Insurance and Conservation Compliance

The Agricultural Act Of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill) reinstated the highly erodible land conservation (HELC) and wetland conservation (WC) provisions to federal crop insurance programs.  Producers in violation of wetland or highly erodible land provisions will be ineligible for most USDA programs, including subsidies for federal crop insurance premiums, beginning with the 2016 crop year.

For purposes of compliance (including wetlands), the statute defines agricultural commodity as any crop that is planted and produced by "annual tilling of the soil."

To comply with the HELC and WC provisions, producers must certify through the AD-1026 form that they will not:

-plant or produce an agricultural commodity on highly erodible land without following an NRCS approved conservation plan;

-plant or produce an agricultural commodity on a converted wetland; or

-convert a wetland to make the production of an agricultural commodity possible.

A completed and signed AD-1026 form (HELC and WC certification) must be on file by June 1, 2015 to be eligible for 2016 federal crop insurance premium subsidies.


A violation of the HELC provisions occurs when a person produces an agricultural commodity on any field that is considered predominantly highly erodible or if the land has been designated for non-cultivation under a USDA program.

A violation of WC provision occurs with production of an agricultural commodity in any crop year on converted wetland.  Beginning after November 28, 1990, any conversion of a wetland (includes draining, dredging, filling, etc. if it serves to make production possible).

Highly Erodible Land

On highly erodible cropland, farmers must follow an acceptable conservation system. Don’t risk losing your eligibility for USDA programs, including crop insurance. A conservation system is needed for all highly erodibleConservation buffers on a Wisconsin farm protecting highly erodible land. cropland, including any new land being brought into production.  Learn about some of the farm conservation solutions NRCS can help plan.

Federal law requires that all persons that produce agriculture commodities must protect all cropland classified as being highly erodible from excessive erosion.  For compliance, conservation systems must result in a “substantial reduction” in cropland soil loss, defined as 2T or less, with T being the tolerable soil loss level.

Monitoring conservation compliance

NRCS is required to make sure that the law on conservation compliance is being fairly and responsibly carried out to reduce soil erosion. Field reviews and crop history are used to monitor compliance.

NRCS conducts a random sampling of clients with Highly Erodible Land on about 38,000 tracts per year,  plus 5% of FSA Farm loan borrowers, USDA employees, tracts with variances granted in previous years, and reported violations, totaling 1,400 tracts per year. 

The most common ways farmers become out of compliance with USDA is by dropping a soil-conserving crop, such as hay, and adding a tilled crop, such as corn or soybeans, that may increase erosion on many soils.

Farmers may be required to implement additional conservation practices to address ephemeral erosion in order to maintain program eligibility. Ephemeral erosion refers to the channels and gullies which recur in the same location on a field. They may be up to several feet wide. Control of ephemeral erosion is a farm bill requirement.
“Technical and minor in nature” variances may be granted for one year to allow waterways to be planned and established on farmer-certified Acceptable Conservation Systems.

Waivers for conservation compliance may be considered for weather, natural disasters, unavoidable situations, such as winter kill of alfalfa, drought resulting lack of crop residue, flooding/wet spring causing change in crop rotations.  The local NRCS District Conservationist has authority to request waivers.

When in violation, farmer is notified and offered appeal rights. NRCS will offer technical assistance to reduce erosion, either immediately or through progressive planning to regain eligibility for program benefits.

Acceptable Conservation Systems

Since 1995 the term “conservation systems”, not specifically “plans”, are required to maintain USDA program eligibility. Farmers self-certify that acceptable conservation systems are being used.

Cost Sharing

Cost-sharing assistance helps farmers stay in compliance. USDA offers two major cost-sharing programs to help farmers with the conservation practices necessary to remain eligible for USDA benefits. The continuous CRP sign up and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offer cost sharing for waterways, buffers, and other cropland conservation practices.

Our GOAL is to work with farmers, to help them stay in compliance or bring them into compliance through progressive planning.

What Farmers Need to Know About Wetlands - Swampbuster Regulations and Wetland Conservation

If you drain, clear trees, fill, or otherwise manipulate a wetland so that it can be cropped, you will lose eligibility for USDA programs. Before you do any alteration to a wet area, including clearing trees or maintenance of existing drainage, contact NRCS for a wetland determination. Don’t risk your eligibility for USDA programs.

To maintain eligibility, anyone participating in USDA farm programs, must certify that they have not produced crops on  wetlands converted after December 23, 1985, and did not convert a wetland after November 28, 1990, to make agricultural production possible.

If Swampbuster is violated, USDA farm program benefits may be lost. If participants convert a wetland, they may lose benefits for the current year, and for the years that follow until the wetland's functions and values are restored.

Swampbuster has reduced the loss of wetlands due to agricultural activities to the lowest levels on record. Swampbuster helps preserve the environmental functions and values of wetlands, including flood control, sediment control, groundwater recharge, water quality, wildlife habitat, recreation, and esthetics.

A publication "Wetlands and Conservation Compliance, What every Wisconsin farmer needs to know."  ( PDF 1.2MB) is now available.  This publication is intended to cover USDA NRCS Wetland determinations only. It is not intended to cover all possible situations, but can be used as a quick reference to familiarize yourself with USDA wetland compliance provisions.  November 2008

For more information on Conservation Compliance, contact your local NRCS office.  Additional information is available on the national NRCS website under Conservation Compliance.