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Conservation Compliance: 5 Steps to Compliance

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The Conservation Provisions – What are they?

On December 23, 1985 Congress enacted the Food Security Act which linked United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program eligibility to certain conditions. These conditions, known as the highly erodible land (HEL) and wetland conservation (WC) provisions, were enacted to:

  • Reduce soil loss due to wind and water erosion;
  • Protect the Nation's long-term capability to produce food and fiber;
  • Reduce sedimentation and improve water quality; and
  • Assist in preserving the values, acreage, and functions of the Nation's wetlands.

STEP 1: See if Conservation Compliance Applies to You

The Conservation Provisions apply to any person seeking benefits from certain USDA programs, including Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans and disaster assistance,Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and FSA conservation programs, and Risk Management Agency (RMA) Federal crop insurance premium subsidies.

If you grow agricultural commodity crops and you have wetlands or HEL, you may need additional assistance from FSA and NRCS to meet the conservation provisions. Agricultural commodities include any crop planted and produced by annual tilling of the soil, including one-trip planters or sugarcane.

STEP 2: Determine if You Comply with the Provisions

In order to maintain eligibility for most USDA programs, producers must comply with the conservation provisions by agreeing they will not:

  • Produce an agricultural commodity on HEL without an adequate conservation system;
  • Plant an agricultural commodity on a converted wetland; or
  • Convert a wetland to enable or enhance agricultural production.

To learn more about the HEL/WC conservation provisions, click here.

STEP 3: Complete and Sign the Form AD-1026:

Any person seeking USDA program benefits must complete, sign, and file Form AD-1026 “Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC) and Wetland Conservation (WC) Certification” with FSA. Additionally, any affiliated person who has a separate farming interest must also complete, sign, and file Form AD-1026. The form serves as compliance certificate to:

  • Inform you of HEL and wetlands requirements;
  • Certify your compliance with those requirements;
  • Identify who needs to complete the form; and
  • Provide authorization for USDA representatives to service any determination requests and verify compliance if needed.  

By signing you are self-certifying that that you will not:

  • Plant or produce an agricultural commodity on HEL without following an NRCS approved conservation plan or system;
  • Plant or produce an agricultural commodity on a converted wetland; or
  • Convert a wetland to make the production of an agricultural commodity possible.

Once the form filed, it remains effective, unless changes to your agricultural operation occurs and/or new activities arise changing the previous self-certification (for example, the intent to bring new land into production or to install new drainage). The form is not specific to a particular crop and it covers all land you farm.  If unsure if the form is filed for your land, contact a FSA representative at your local USDA Service Center.  

STEP 4: Get in Compliance, if Needed

If your land needs a HEL or wetlands determination, FSA will forward your AD-1026 request to NRCS, the agency responsible for making determinations. Determining whether you have HEL is based on soil types published in your county’s soil survey. Determining whether you have wetlands involves an analysis of remote technical resources and may include a field visit to evaluate the site’s soils, plants and hydrology.

To learn more about the determination process, click on HEL or WC.

NRCS will respond to the request by issuing a preliminary technical determination on Form NRCS-CPA-026 Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Determination”.

Upon request, NRCS can assist you in developing a conservation plan for your HEL fields. This plan describes and schedules the conservation practices to control soil erosion on HEL fields that meets the HEL conservation requirements. To learn more about the HEL conservation provisions, click here.

If you have certified wetlands on your land, you have several options, including avoidance of wetland drainage, enrolling eligible land in a voluntary conservation program, and mitigating for wetland losses. To learn more about the wetland conservation provisions, click here.

STEP 5: Ensure Your Operation Stays in Compliance

Each year as you enroll in USDA programs, thoroughly review the requirements for program participation outlined on Form AD-1026.  Ensure that you notify FSA of updates to farm management activities that may require an update to the form.

If you farm HEL fields, ensure continued application of your approved conservation plan or system to control wind, water, and ephemeral gully erosion.  If you wish to change management that could result in increased erosion rates, you are encouraged to contact your local NRCS for technical assistance.  

If certified wetlands are present on your property, you may farm these areas when conditions permit but may not convert the wetland through draining, filling low spots, or clearing woody vegetation. If you are planning any of these activities, you may receive guidance from your local NRCS office to avoid impact to certified wetlands.

Want to Learn More?

Be sure to check out NRCS’s Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Provisions webpage, which provides additional resources.


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