Federal Farm Bill

Why the Farm Bill is Crucial to Saving the Bay

corn field and cover crops - Leslie Bowman - 695x352

On September 30, 2018, the current Farm Bill will expire. This massive bill, which is passed every five years or so, is crucial to Bay cleanup efforts because it includes conservation programs that help farmers stop pollution at its source and ensure our families enjoy clean water.

UPDATE: On April 18, 2018, the House Agriculture Committee passed H.R. 2. Unfortunately, the bill fails to make critical reforms to improve conservation program performance and delivery in the Bay watershed. See below for more information.

For generations, America’s family farmers have worked to protect our land and water while producing healthy foods. Without the right practices in place, however, fertilizer used in farming can end up in our rivers and streams, threatening our clean water.

CBF is working with senators and representatives from all six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to make sure the new Farm Bill invests in sustainable family farms in the watershed. Key to this effort is ensuring that Bay farmers get their fair share of resources to reduce pollution, remain profitable, and improve water quality for everyone.

CBF's efforts are having an impact. In November 2017, senators and representatives in the Bay watershed introduced the Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancement Act of 2017 in Congress. This bill aims to strengthen the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and increase the tools and resources—including funding and much needed technical assistance to implement effective management practices—available to Bay farmers. In doing so, we will be helping family farmers in our watershed keep valuable fertilizer on their land and ensure we have clean water. (Read the letter from Bay-state senators to the Senate Agriculture Committee).

Congress will likely be developing and refining the Farm Bill well into 2018. At key points in the process, CBF will need our members' voices to ensure that Bay farmers receive the help they need to implement practices that protect our waters and their important role in the region's economy and culture.

Farm Bill Programs Essential to Bay Conservation

The Farm Bill includes four U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that provide critical tools and resources for family farmers in the Bay watershed: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, the Conservation Reserve Program/Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). These conservation programs deserve a lot of credit for improvements being made to water quality across the watershed, but they must be updated in 2018 to keep pace with the Cheseake Clean Water Blueprint.

On April 18, 2018, the House Agriculture Committee passed H.R. 2. Unfortunately, the bill fails to make critical reforms. A brief overview of the bill's impact on these key conservation programs is outlined below.

  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) shares the costs with farmers for installing basic on-farm practices that keep fertilizer on the farm and out of the water. In all watershed states, demand for this program exceeds supply.
    • H.R. 2 includes an important reform for small farmers: it levels the playing field by eliminating a large fund reserved solely for livestock operations.
  • The Conservation Reserve Program/Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CRP/CREP) helps landowners to restore streams that run through their land by installing conservation measures. For example, they plant trees that both stabilize soil on stream banks and create shade that lowers stream temperatures for fish, and they install fences that keep animals—and their manure—out of streams. Learn more about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
    • The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a subprogram of CRP, funds the majority of forested buffers planted in the Chesapeake region. H.R. 2 keeps the program viable by increasing enrollment from 24 to 29 million acres by 2023, but it reduces cost-share payments and limits incentives which will discourage bay farmers from enrolling.

  • The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) helps agricultural producers maintain and improve their existing conservation systems and adopt additional conservation activities to address priority resource concerns like those in the Blueprint.
    • H.R. 2 eliminates this program that incentivized the maintenance and expansion of conservation stewardship practices on working lands.  EQIP has been amended to include a new stewardship program, but it falls far short of the existing CSP.
  •  The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) makes targeted investments in family farms—particularly those farms located in "critical conservation areas" like the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For example, it will provide additional resources for installing on-farm practices that prevent pollution from entering the water. The program enables groups like CBF to help family farmers plan and install specific agricultural conservation practices on their land that are vital to improving local and downstream water quality. CBF will to work closely with Bay farmers to ensure they can participate in this program. The Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancement Act of 2017, mentioned above, would provide much needed support for the RCPP.
    • H.R. 2 fails to include key reforms—outlined in the Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act of 2017—needed by Bay stakeholders. Unless reforms are made, Bay stakeholders will have difficulty participating in the program.
      The bill should:
      • give priority to multi-jurisdictional partnerships working on projects that are consistent with national, regional and state priorities;
      • provide greater flexibility for outreach and technical assistance; and,
      • require USDA to demonstrate that projects address critical resource concerns.  

See CBF's summary of program issues faced by Chesapeake Bay Watershed stakeholders who have participated in the program between 2014 and 2017.

Additional information about the Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act:

Find out more about farm conservation and the economy

Learn more about how farm bill-supported conservation programs help farmers and the Bay in our Farmer Success Stories blog series.

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Founded in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay.

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