Federal Farm Bill

Why the Farm Bill is Crucial to Saving the Bay

corn field and cover crops - Leslie Bowman - 695x352

The Farm 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, Dec. 12, 2018: The House and Senate passed a compromise Farm Bill, which will increase conservation funding, simplify and streamline the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and help ensure adequate and fair compensation to landowners willing to implement forest buffers. The Bill now needs final approval from the President.

Take a moment to thank your representatives in Congress for passing a Bay-friendly Farm Bill!

The following four Farm Bill conservation programs are essential to Bay restoration:

  • The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)/Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP),
  • The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP),
  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP), and
  • The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Of these, CREP and RCPP especially needed to be updated in 2018 to ensure that resources would remain available to support Bay farmers' efforts to reduce pollution, remain profitable, and improve water quality for everyone.

Historically, CREP has been instrumental in getting forested riparian buffers and other conservation practices on the ground, but enrollment has waned in recent years. Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey introduced legislative language aimed to reinvigorate CREP, thereby helping Pennsylvania and the other Bay jurisdictions meet state Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.

In addition, Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen introduced amendments to the RCPP that will increase funding, give preference to areas like the Chesapeake Bay that have water quality problems, and help increase program efficiency.

Overview of Farm Bill Priorities for the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

CREP and the RCPP need to keep pace with the Cheseake Clean Water Blueprint.


CREP is a subprogram of CRP that helps landowners in the Bay watershed plant trees along the banks of streams, referred to as forested riparian buffers. These buffers significantly reduce sediment and nutrient runoff and are one of the most cost-effective methods of improving water quality. Recognizing this, the Chesapeake Bay watershed states committed to foresting 70 percent of the riparian (stream bank) area in the watershed by 2025 by restoring 900 miles of buffers each year. Unfortunately, throughout the watershed, CREP has underperformed and states are far from reaching their goals.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is a longtime partner in the CREP program. In Pennsylvania alone, CBF's restoration specialists have assisted farmers in installing more than 2,300 miles of stream buffers since 1997. Learn more about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). To do this, we have leveraged roughly $25 million in private, state, and federal resources. Based on this experience, we identified critical issues and policy options for improving delivery and implementation of the program and shared them with senators from the Bay watershed.

This spring, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey introduced The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) Improvement Act of 2018. This bill addresses the issues CBF raised, increasing the tools and resources—including funding and much needed technical assistance—that farmers need to implement and manage conservation measures effectively.

2018 Farm Bill Update for CREP:

The Senate 2018 Farm Bill, passed by the Senate on June 28, incorporated key reforms of the Casey bill, including:

  • allocating more acreage to CREP so more farmers can participate;
  • ensuring the cost share that farmers pay is based on local prices for practices like installing stream fencing, stream crossing, and alternative water sources on marginal pastureland, 
  • providing more resources to farmers for care and maintenance of buffers, and 
  • requiring greater accountability by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its commitments to the CREP program.

The House 2018 Farm Bill (H.R. 2), passed by the House on June 21, failed to include these key reforms. The bill 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 farmers from enrolling.


In 2014, Congress established the RCPP in an effort to prioritize conservation resources and attract and leverage private sector partners and resources. The RCPP replaced the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, which had been unique for its commitment to target resources to priority lands. The new program was designed "to accomplish the functions of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program."

Unfortunately, the RCPP has not lived up to this goal. The number of partnerships and allocated federal resources for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed have been lower than anticipated. Annual funding for water quality improvement has dropped from an average of $50 million to about $13 million. While the RCPP requires the USDA to report on which critical conservation conditions the projects address, it does not require reporting on the results to water quality. On the administrative side, stakeholders have experienced significant issues with the RCPP.

CBF coordinated policy discussions among stakeholders and agriculture restoration specialists to develop recommendations for adjustments that would ensure the program performs as intended. For details on specific issues and recommendations, see CBF's white paper, "Strengthening the Regional Conservation Partnership Program for the Chesapeake Bay Region."

The Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act of 2017, introduced in both the House and the Senate, addressed these issues. Bay-watershed governors supported the bill and members of Congress worked to include the bill's provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill.

2018 Farm Bill Update for RCPP:

The Senate 2018 Farm Bill incorporated the key reforms outlined in the Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act of 2017, including:

  • ensuring projects in critical conservation areas like the Chesapeake Bay watershed reduce erosion, provide sediment control, and mange nutrients that affect the Bay;
  • doubling the amount of mandatory funding available; and
  • addressing the administrative challenges participants face.

The House 2018 Farm Bill (H.R. 2) failed to include these reforms.

Additional Farm Bill Programs Essential to Bay Restoration

As mentioned above, two more Farm Bill conservation programs deserve a lot of credit for improvements being made to water quality across the watershed.

  •  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.
  •  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.

Additional resources regarding 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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