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You have likely been hearing stories in the media and elsewhere in recent months about the $956 billion dollar 2014 Farm Bill which was signed into law on February 7th. Given the scope and cost of this legislation, it’s easy to find things you love about it, and also things you don’t love so much. The following is a brief overview of the excellent programs in the Farm Bill and how these programs further the efforts of Hill Country Conservancy, those of other land trusts and most importantly, our landowner partners.
First, the Farm Bill, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is the primary source of funding available to help purchase conservation easements on working farms and ranches. The 2014 Farm Bill has renewed this important funding via the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP), which includes the Agricultural Land Easements program (ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easements program (WRE). Landowners who place conservation easements on their land reduce the value of their land as a result of restricting its future development potential, and there is clear public benefit to preserving working farms and ranches with sensitive water and wildlife resources. And, many farm and ranch owners are doing everything they can to keep their land intact, but estate proceedings, management expenses and drought, alongside unreliable agricultural markets, frequently spur subdivision and sales to developers. Payment for conservation easements helps to alleviate these financial burdens. In short, the ACEP program will help us protect important lands that couldn’t otherwise be protected in our fast-growing economy and changing landscape.
Also, the 2014 Farm Bill includes financial incentive programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). These programs help farmers and ranchers to perform “conservation practices” such as brush management, enhancing grass cover and wildlife habitat, rotational grazing, deferred grazing in sensitive areas, and improving irrigation efficiency. Many farmers and ranchers are “land rich and cash poor”, so these incentives provide needed assistance so that they can better care for the natural resources on their land. We all benefit because clean water, abundant wildlife and healthy food arise from activities on private land. This is particularly true in Texas, a state where approximately 95% of the land is privately owned.
So, you see that NRCS and the Farm Bill are a huge help to Hill Country Conservancy’s efforts to conserve and help care for the water, wildlife, and working farms and ranches throughout the Hill Country. We couldn’t do it without the help of private landowners. We’re fortunate to have such wonderful conservation partners.