Agricultural Cost-Share in Pennsylvania

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Forest buffers separate farm fields from the West Branch Susquehanna River, providing a highly effective filter that reduces the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution that runs into the Commonwealth's waters.

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Pennsylvania's Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program is crucial for clean water and healthy soils

Pennsylvania farmers want to help clean up their waterways. They're willing to invest their time, land, and effort. The Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP) will provide a true statewide cost-share program to help them implement practices that keep healthy soils and nutrients on their land and out of waterways.

Agriculture is an integral part of Pennsylvania's culture, heritage, and economy. It also serves, when done correctly, as a natural filter, soaking up rainfall and runoff before it reaches Pennsylvania's creeks and the Bay downstream. But farmers need help to implement critical conservation practices to clean up the Commonwealth's waters.

What Is ACAP?

Pennsylvania's farmers are stewards of the land. ACAP establishes a statewide cost-share program to help farmers implement best management practices and leave a legacy of healthy soils and clean water.

While Pennsylvania has financial assistance programs like the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program and the pilot Conservation Excellence Grant (CEG) Program, as well as USDA NRCS programs funded through the Federal Farm Bill, ACAP is different. Enacted in 2022 as part of the Clean Streams Fund legislation (SB 832/HB 1842), ACAP invests $154 million to establish a statewide program that will be directed locally by county conservation districts. The program will provide financial resources to farmers to install conservation practices that work best for each farm and technical assistance funding to the conservation district to support farmer requests.

The result: healthy soils, clean water, thriving local economies to name a few—for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians.

How ACAP Will Work

Specific programmatic details will be established by the Pennsylania State Conservation Commission, but ACAP is modeled after Pennsylvania’s lauded Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program, which is administered by the State Conservation Commission. Similar to that program, ACAP funding would be distributed to county conservation districts based on areas with the greatest need for improvement. County conservation districts would work with participating farmers and landowners, or with non-governmental organizations and farm consultants, to help design and implement soil and water conservation practices that will work best for each farm’s unique circumstances. There are no mandated practices in ACAP.

Like their role in the Dirt and Gravel Road Maintenance Program, the Penn State Cooperative Extension will assist with education, training, and outreach to farmers and participating partners involved in the program.

This flow chart shows how ACAP sets farmers up for success through use of state, federal, or private funding; coordination with the state conservation commission and Penn State Extension; and assistance from county conservation districts, NGOs, and private business.

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5 Ways ACAP Will Benefit Pennsylvania

  1. Healthier Streams: More than 6,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams are considered impaired from agricultural activities. ACAP means critters like brook trout and the hellbender that rely on cool, clean water to survive will have cleaner, healthier habitat.
  2. Cleaner Drinking Water: Most Pennsylvanians get their drinking water from lakes, rivers, and streams. ACAP will help keep pollutants out of sources of drinking water thus improving quality and reducing treatment costs.
  3. Vibrant Communities: Agriculture is Pennsylvania’s leading economic enterprise. ACAP will help boost local business and jobs, benefiting quality of life in communities across the state.
  4. Charming Countryside: Agriculture is part of Pennsylvania’s culture and heritage. Cleaner, greener farmland means more iconic views sought after by the growing number of agritourists.
  5. A Saved Chesapeake Bay: Agricultural production activities are a leading source of Pennsylvania’s nutrient and topsoil loss degrading the Chesapeake Bay. ACAP will go a long way in helping our community and our neighbors downstream.

Why Agricultural Cost-Share Is Important to Achieving Pennsylvania's Blueprint Goals

Pennsylvania reduced its agricultural nitrogen pollution flowing to the Bay by 1.6 million pounds between 2010 and 2018. Farms will need to cut an additional 22.3 million pounds of nitrogen to meet the Commonwealth's 2025 Blueprint goals under the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint—roughly 93 percent of its total remaining reductions.

While the REAP program and other Pennsylvania financial assistance programs provide a positive foundation to build upon, they still fall far short of the level of investment needed in agriculture to successfully meet the Commonwealth's pollution reduction goals. Pennsylvania's final Clean Water Blueprint identifies a funding shortfall in excess of $300 million annually between now and the Blueprint's 2025 deadline—the vast majority of which is needed to help farmers implement conservation practices on their land.

5 Ways ACAP Will Benefit Farmers

  1. Custom Solutions : County Conservation Districts, Penn State Extension, and others will help you with a plan tailored to your operation.
  2. More Productive Soil: Adopting conservation practices fosters healthy soil that will help sustain plants and animals, break down dead vegetative material, control diseases, and improve soil structure.
  3. Reduced Costs: No-till cultivation, cover crops, and other practices that improve soil health will strengthen nutrient cycling and natural pest resistance, reducing your need for costly fertilizers and pesticides.
  4. Cleaner Water: Healthy soils filter water in wet weather, retain moisture during drought, moderate soil temperature, and keep soils and nutrients from running off your land.
  5. A Lasting Legacy: For many of farmers, farming is more than a livelihood. It’s their culture, their heritage, and their legacy. Passing down a productive operation with healthier soils and cleaner water can be key to the success of future generations.

What Can You Do to Help?

The Clean Streams Fund and ACAP are historic investments in Pennsylvania. But with nearly 28,000 miles of impaired streams across the state, there's more work to be done.

  • Sign up for our Action Network to get important advocacy updates.
  • Check our Action Center for tips and tools.
  • If you want to know how you can do more, contact our Pennsylvania Grassroots Manager Carla Johns at [email protected].

See and hear what others have to say about ACAP:

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