WASHINGTON — Under the Biden-Harris administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continued its conservation work across the country amid an ongoing pandemic and numerous natural disasters, helping agricultural producers and forest landowners – including urban and underserved producers – implement conservation practices on their working lands. These efforts by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helped conserve natural resources such as soil, water and wildlife while delivering climate solutions and boosting producers’ bottom lines.
“NRCS provides America’s farmers and ranchers with financial and technical assistance to address their unique conservation concerns and improve their operations,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby. “Many of our investments this year focused on ensuring greater access to our programs for underserved and urban producers, and on climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategies to help mitigate climate change and build on-farm resilience.”
During the past two years, NRCS provided targeted funding for climate-smart agriculture and forestry conservation practices through its conservation programs and made improvements in nutrient management that will be bolstered by funding provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, all while prioritizing assistance for underserved producers and urban and innovative production. Key highlights include:
With the help of funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, NRCS invested $803 million into watershed programs for more than 250 projects. This includes the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) Program, Watershed Rehabilitation (REHAB) Program, and Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program. which helps project sponsors rehabilitate aging dams that are reaching the end of their design lives and/or no longer meet federal or state standards. This historic legislation allows NRCS to address a broader portfolio of priority watershed needs across the nation and U.S. territories. NRCS prioritized underserved communities for funding.
NRCS took new steps to improve opportunities for nutrient management through targeted funding, increased program flexibilities, a new outreach campaign to promote nutrient management’s economic benefits and expanded partnerships to develop nutrient management plans. This was part of USDA’s broader effort to address future fertilizer availability and cost challenges for U.S. producers.
- With the help of funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, NRCS invested $803 million into watershed programs for more than 250 projects. This includes the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) Program, Watershed Rehabilitation (REHAB) Program, and Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program. which helps project sponsors rehabilitate aging dams that are reaching the end of their design lives and/or no longer meet federal or state standards. This historic legislation allows NRCS to address a broader portfolio of priority watershed needs across the nation and U.S. territories. NRCS prioritized underserved communities for funding.
- Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), NRCS provided $3.6 billion in assistance to help put conservation practices on 43.5 million acres during the past two years. Through the EQIP Cover Crop Initiative, NRCS made available $38 million in additional assistance in 11 states to help agricultural producers mitigate climate change through the widespread adoption of cover crops. Cover crops offer agricultural producers a natural and inexpensive climate solution through their ability to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide into soils. In fiscal years 2021 and 2022, NRCS provided technical and financial assistance to help producers plant 2.3 and 2.8 million acres of cover crops through EQIP, respectively.
- The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) helped producers protect sensitive landscapes, including wetlands, grasslands and prime farmlands, providing many natural resource benefits. This included nearly 86,000 acres in ACEP Wetland Reserve Easements and over 289,000 acres in ACEP Agricultural Land Easements.
- Through both the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG), NRCS co-invested $580 million with partners, expanding the reach and improving the effectiveness of conservation. For both RCPP and CIG, NRCS prioritized projects focused on underserved producers and climate-smart agriculture and forestry.
- In fiscal year 2022, NRCS invested $50 million in 118 partnerships to expand access to conservation assistance for climate-smart agriculture and forestry. These Equity Conservation Cooperative Agreements funded two-year projects to expand the delivery of conservation assistance to farmers who are new to farming, low income, socially disadvantaged or military veterans. Projects support USDA’s broader effort to address climate change and equitable access to programs. In October 2021, NRCS established the NRCS Equity Division. The Equity Division oversees and ensures the Agency is implementing a framework to meet the agency’s equity operations short- and long-term goals and objectives.
- NRCS provides urban producers with conservation assistance and leads the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP), working with other USDA agencies to support urban farms in providing access to healthy local food, jobs, and green space. This includes $26 million in grants and $3 million in cooperative agreements for composting and food waste reduction in the past two years. Additionally, OUAIP has convened the Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Advisory Committee for the Secretary as well as relaunched the People’s Garden Initiative.
Looking ahead to 2023, NRCS will continue to prioritize climate-smart agriculture and forestry conservation practices bolstered by funding provided by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), as well as improved access and outreach to underserved and urban producers. NRCS requested public comments for ideas on how to maximize IRA funding to benefit climate mitigation, measure climate results, and improve program delivery to producers, especially underserved producers. NRCS will soon be announcing climate-smart IRA opportunities for fiscal year 2023 and will and continue to implement innovative program improvements in future years. Visit the NRCS Priorities webpage to learn more.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit usda.gov.