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Programs Stemming from 1966 Farm Bill
Click here to view full size picture The 1996 Farm Bill, Public Law 104-127 (110 STAT 888), became law April 4, 1996. Bill H.R. 2854, 104th Congress.

The 1996 Farm Bill has been codified in various Titles of the United States Code. A digest of the conservation Provisions (primarily contained in Title III) of the Act are summarized below.
SHORT TITLE(S) AS ENACTED:
Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996
Agricultural Market Transition Act
Food Security Commodity Reserve Act of 1996
National Natural Resources Conservation Foundation Act
Commodity Promotion, Research, and Information Act of 1996
Canola and Rapeseed Research, Promotion, and Consumer Information Act
National Kiwifruit Research, Promotion, and Consumer Information Act
Popcorn Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act
OFFICIAL TITLE AS INTRODUCED:
A bill to modify the operation of certain agricultural programs.
Public Law 104-127 (110 STAT. 888)
"Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996" This 311-page law re-writes much of U.S. Federal legislation relating to agriculture, commodity supports, agricultural financing and commerce, and agricultural research and education, as well as aspects of forestry and and conservation law, among other topics. It includes, as Title I, the "Agricultural Market Transition Act." A detailed summation of the provisions of this massive Act is beyond the scope of this reference section.
Conservation Provisions
Conservation Reserve Program
Environmental Quality Incentives
Wetland Reserve Program
Wetland Conservation
Wetland Memorandum Agreement
Farmland Preservation Program
Conservation Compliance
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program
Forest Stewardship Program
Forest Incentives Program

Conservation Provisions

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The conservation provisions of the 1996 farm bill simplify existing conservation programs. The Bill also creates new programs to address high priority environmental protection goals.

The farm bill authorizes more than $2.2 billion in additional funding for conservation programs, extends the Conservation Reserve Program and Wetland Reserve Program, and creates new initiatives to improve natural resources on America's private lands.

To qualify for market transition payments under basic commodity programs which replace traditional farm subsidies, farm operators must agree to abide by Conservation Compliance and Wetlands Conservation (Swampbuster) provisions in the 1996 farm bill.

Umbrella Program Reform
The bill reforms an existing program, the Environmental Conservation Acreage Reserve Program (ECARP), which encompasses the existing Conservation Reserve Program, the new Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Wetland Reserve Program.

Conservation Reserve Program

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Conservation Reserve Program
The CRP protects highly erodible and environmentally sensitive lands with grass, trees, and other long-term cover.
(16 U.S.C. 3801, 3811-3814)
The farm bill:
- Allows up to 36.4 million acres to be enrolled at any one time. New enrollments can replace expired or terminated contracts.
- Allows owners or operators who entered into a contract before 1995 to terminate contracts on certain acres after giving written notice. Contracts must have been in effect for at least five years. Lands with high environmental values are not eligible for early release.
- Gives the Secretary discretionary authority to offer future early outs for CRP acres.

Environmental Quality Incentives

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Environmental Quality Incentives
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)(16 U.S.C. 3839aa-3839aa-8) is a new program under the 1996 Farm Bill which combines the functions of the Agricultural Conservation Program, Water Quality Incentives Program, Great Plains Conservation Program, and the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program.

EQIP is funded at $130 million in fiscal year 1996 and $200 million annually thereafter. Livestock-related conservation practices will receive 50 percent of program funding.

The farm bill:
- Establishes conservation priority areas where significant water, soil, and related natural resource problems exist, in cooperation with state and federal agencies and with the state technical committees.
- Gives higher priority to areas where state or local governments offer financial or technical assistance, or where agricultural improvements will help meet water quality objectives.
- Establishes 5- to 10-year contracts to provide technical assistance and pay up to 75 percent of the costs of conservation practices such as manure management systems, pest management, and erosion control.
- Defines land eligible for EQIP contracts as agricultural land that poses a serious problem to soil, water, or related resources.
- Does not allow large livestock operations (to be defined through a public rule-making process) to be eligible for cost-share assistance for animal waste management facilities, but they do remain eligible for technical assistance.
- Requires activities under the contract to be carried out according to a conservation plan.
- Limits total cost-share and incentive payments to any person to $10,000 annually, and to $50,000 for the life of the contract.
- Phases in EQIP over the next six months, and then ends the Agricultural Conservation Program, Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program, Water Quality Incentives Program, and the Great Plains Conservation Program.

Wetland Reserve Program

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Wetland Reserve Program (16 U.S.C. 3837-3837f)

The WRP will have an enrollment cap of 975,000 acres. Program changes provide more flexibility and help landowners work toward a goal of no net loss of wetlands.

The revised WRP:
Requires that, beginning October 1, 1996, one-third of total program acres be enrolled in permanent easements, one-third in 30-year easements, and one-third in restoration only cost-share agreements. Individuals may choose the category for their eligible land.
Stipulates that effective October 1, 1996, no new permanent easements may be enrolled until at least 75,000 acres of temporary easements have entered the program.
Provides landowners with 75 percent to 100 percent cost-sharing for permanent easements, 50 percent to 75 percent for 30- year easements, and 50 percent to 75 percent for restoration cost-share agreements. Cost- sharing will help pay for restoration.

Wetland Conservation

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Wetland Conservation (Swampbuster) (16 U.S.C. 3821-3824)
The 1996 farm bill makes several policy changes to existing Swampbuster provisions to give farmers more flexibility in complying with wetland conservation requirements while protecting natural resources:
- Expands areas where mitigation can be used. This allows individuals to work with producers, conservation districts or other relevant entities to select the best area for mitigating wetlands.
- Provides more options for mitigation, including restoration, enhancement, or creation as long as wetland functions and values are maintained.
- Encourages effective and timely use of "minimal effect" determinations. This change allows the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), working with state technical committees, to identify practices that have a minimal effect on the environment and put them on a "fast track."
- Stipulates that wetland conversion activities, authorized by a permit issued under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which make agriculture production possible, will be accepted for farm bill purposes if they were adequately mitigated.
- Revises the concept of "abandonment" to ensure that as long as land is used for agriculture, a certified Prior Converted cropland designation remains in effect. When done under an approved plan, landowners with Farmed Wetlands (FW) and Farmed Wetlands Pasture (FWP) may allow an area to revert to wetland status, and convert it back to an FW or FWP for agricultural purposes without violating the Swampbuster provision.
- Requires wetland determinations to be certified by NRCS. Previous wetland determinations will be certified to verify their accuracy. A certified wetland determination will remain in effect as long as the land is used for agricultural purposes or until the owner or operator requests a review from the Secretary.
- Provides the Secretary with the discretion to waive penalties for ineligibility and to grant time to restore converted wetlands.
- Provides the Secretary with authority to identify for individual producers which programs are affected by Swampbuster violations and how much the penalty is.
- Establishes a pilot program for wetland mitigation banking in order to allow USDA to assess how well mitigation banking works for agriculture.

Wetland Memorandum Agreement

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Wetlands Memorandum of Agreement The farm bill expands the definition of agricultural land contained in the interagency Wetlands MOA to include not only cropland and pasture land, but also tree farms, rangeland, native pasture land, and other land used for livestock production.

Farmland Preservation Program

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Farmland Protection Program

Notice: This information is based on the Public Notice of Request for Proposals for the Farmland Protection Program published in the Federal Register May 28, 1997. The notice can be viewed on the World Wide Web at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov.


Introduction

The Farmland Protection Program (FPP) is a voluntary program that helps farmers keep their land in agriculture. The program provides funding to State, local, or tribal entities with existing farmland protection programs to purchase conservation easements or other interests. The goal of the program is to protect between 170,000 and 340,000 acres of farmland. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been designated as the lead agency in implementing this program.

How FPP works

USDA joins with State, local, or tribal governments to acquire conservation easements or other interests from landowners. Participating landowners choose to keep their land in agriculture and agree not to convert the land for nonagricultural use. Landowners retain all rights to use the property for agriculture. All lands enrolled must have a conservation plan developed according to the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide.
Applications for the FPP come from States, tribes, and local governments that have existing farmland protection programs. Priority is given to applications that strive for perpetual easements, although a minimum of 30 years is required. Applications that protect locally significant lands are also considered if they are economically viable units.

Eligibility

To qualify for FPP, the land offered must:
- Be prime, unique, or other productive soil;
- Be part of a pending offer from a State, local, or tribal farmland protection program;
- Be privately owned;
- Be large enough to sustain agricultural production;
- Be accessible to markets for what the land produces and have adequate infrastructure and agricultural support services; and
- Have surrounding parcels of land that can support long-term agricultural production.

If the land cannot be converted to nonagricultural uses because of existing deed restrictions or other legal constraints, it is ineligible for FPP.

Funding

Funds for FPP come from the Federal Government's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which funds several USDA conservation programs. Total funding for the FPP, established in the 1996 Farm Bill, is $35 million over 6 years.

For More Information

NRCS, the Farm Service Agency, Extension Service, or local conservation district can provide more information. Local USDA Service Centers are listed in the telephone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture. Information is also available on USDA's Web site.

Conservation Compliance

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Conservation Compliance
The farm bill makes several policy changes in the operation of Conservation Compliance:
- Directs USDA employees who are providing on-site technical assistance to work with landowners to correct an observed potential compliance problem. Landowners will have up to one year to take corrective action before a violation is reported.
- Encourages farmers to maintain records of residue measurement, including those provided by a third party. Where appropriate, USDA will use these measurements when conducting annual status reviews to determine erosion levels.
- Authorizes county committees to provide relief in cases of undue economic hardship.
- Revises "good faith" to ensure penalties are commensurate with violations.

Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program

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Background
The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) (16 U.S.C. 3836a) is a voluntary program for people who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat primarily on private lands. It provides both technical assistance and cost-share payments to help establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat.

How WHIP Works
Participants who own or control land agree to prepare and implement a wildlife habitat development plan. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers participants technical and financial assistance for the establishment of wildlife habitat development practices. In addition, if the landowner agrees, cooperating State wildlife agencies and nonprofit or private organizations may provide expertise or additional funding to help complete a project.

The Plan

NRCS helps participants prepare a wildlife habitat development plan in consultation with the local conservation district. The plan describes the landowner's goals for improving wildlife habitat, includes a list of practices and a schedule for installing them, and details the steps necessary to maintain the habitat for the life of the agreement. This plan may or may not be part of a larger conservation plan that addresses other resource needs such as water quality and soil erosion.

Cost-Share Assistance

USDA and the participant enter into a cost-share agreement for wildlife habitat development. This agreement generally lasts from 5 to 10 years from the date the agreement is signed. Under the agreement:
- The landowner agrees to install and maintain the WHIP practices and allow NRCS or its agent access to monitor the effectiveness of the practices.
- USDA agrees to provide technical assistance and pay up to 75 percent of the cost of installing the wildlife habitat practices.
- Cost-share payments may be used to establish new practices or replace practices that fail for reasons beyond the landowner's control.

Eligibility

Eligible participants include those who own or have control of the land under consideration. All lands are eligible for WHIP, except:
- Federal land;
- Land currently enrolled in the Water Bank Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, or other similar programs;
- Land subject to an Emergency Watershed Protection Program floodplain easement; and
- Land where USDA determines that impacts from onsite or offsite conditions make the success of habitat improvement unlikely.

Mitigation
WHIP funds cannot be used for mitigation or on land designated as converted wetland.

WHIP Funding

WHIP is currently budgeted for $50 million total through the year 2002.
WHIP funds are distributed to States based on State wildlife habitat priorities, which may include wildlife habitat areas, targeted species and their habitats, and specific practices. WHIP may be implemented in cooperation with other Federal, State, or local agencies; conservation districts; or private conservation groups. State priorities are developed through a locally led process that identifies wildlife resource needs and finalized in consultation with the State Technical Committee.
For More Information
NRCS; Farm Service Agency; Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service; or your local conservation district can provide more information. Your USDA Service Center is listed in the telephone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture. Information is also available on NRCS's Web site (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov)

Forest Stewardship Program

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Forest Stewardship Program (FSP)
Stewardship Incentives Program (SIP)


SUMMARIES

Funded through the USDA Forest Service; and administered and coordinated by the MDNR Forest Management Division, the FSP encourages the active management of forest resources that are owned by non-industrial private landowners. The main purpose of the program is to help landowners increase the benefits they derive from their land, while conserving it for the future.

Once a landowner has a Forest Stewardship Management Plan, he/she may qualify for cost share through the SIP, to help implement some of the management recommendations written in the plan. Some of the practices include (but are DEFINITELY NOT limited to) reforestation, improving the established forest, soil and water protection, stream improvement, and a wildlife habitat enhancement.
For information in general, visit MDNR's web site.

Forest Incentives Program

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Forestry Incentives Program (FIP)
(16 USC §§ 2101 - 2114)


Introduction

The 1996 Farm Bill extends the Forestry Incentives Program (FIP), which was originally authorized in 1978 to share up to 65 percent of the costs of tree planting, timber stand improvements, and related practices on nonindustrial private forest lands.
FIP's forest maintenance and reforestation provide numerous natural resource benefits, including reduced wind and soil erosion and enhanced water quality and wildlife habitat as well as helping to assure a reliable future supply of timber. Improving timber stands, which help to sequester greenhouse gases, also contributes to the President's Climate Change initiative. FIP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Forest Service.

Program Availability

FIP is a nationwide program available in counties designated on the basis of a Forest Service survey of total eligible private timber acreage that is potentially suitable for production of timber products. Federal cost-share money is available­with a limit of $10,000 per person per year with the stipulation that no more than 65 percent of the cost may be paid. To find out if your county participates in FIP, check with your local USDA office, State forester, conservation district, or Cooperative Extension office.

FIP-Preparing To Meet the Demand

FIP is intended to assure the Nation's ability to meet future demand for sawtimber, pulpwood, and quality hardwoods by planting more trees and placing more forest land under good forest management. FIP's cost sharing for these measures helps eligible private landowners, whose small parcels represent the majority of the Nation's forest lands.
To be eligible for cost-share assistance under FIP, a landowner must:
- Own no more than 1,000 acres of eligible forest land. In the public interest, the Secretary of Agriculture can grant an exception for larger acreages;
- Be a private landowner of a nonindustrial forest. Individuals, groups, associations, or corporations whose stocks are not publicly traded may be eligible for FIP provided they are not primarily engaged in the business of manufacturing forest products or providing public utility services;
- Have land that is suitable for conversion from nonforest land into forest land (afforestation); for reforestation; or for improved forest management; and
- Have land that is capable of producing marketable timber crops and meets minimum productivity standards established for FIP.
At least 10 acres of eligible forest land is required for FIP.
Available practices under FIP are:
- Tree planting;
- Improving a stand of forest trees; and
- Site preparation for natural regeneration.

The State forester provides technical advice in developing a forest management plan and helps find approved vendors, if needed, for completing the FIP work. In addition, the State forestry agency must certify that the project has been completed satisfactorily before cost-share payments can be made.
For more information: USDA, Forest Service, Farm Service Agency, local conservation district, or the Cooperative Extension Service.
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