America's farmers and ranchers are stewards of the land. One of agriculture's biggest success stories is how producers have both protected and enhanced their environments, creating a wealth of resources for today's farmers and ranchers.
USDA has many tools available for new farmers and ranchers looking to carry on this legacy, including technical assistance, programs to help you invest in your land, and programs to help ensure the future of your farmland.
Conservation Assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical and financial assistance to America's farmers and ranchers to help them implement voluntary conservation measures that benefit both the environment and the agricultural operations. NRCS has programs available to you as a new and beginning farmer that may provide up to 90 percent of the costs associated with implementing conservation practices and may also provide up to 50 percent in advance for the purpose of purchasing materials or contracting.
The Agricultural Management Assistance Program (AMA) helps agricultural producers use conservation to manage risk and solve natural resource issues through conservation. NRCS administers the AMA conservation provisions while the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Risk Management Agency implement other provisions under AMA.
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. Participants earn CSP payments for conservation performance: the higher the performance, the higher the payment.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers in order to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation or improved or created wildlife habitat.
Historically underserved producers (limited resource farmers/ranchers, beginning farmers/ranchers, socially disadvantaged producers, tribes, and veterans) may be eligible for increased practice payment rate to support implementation of conservation practices and conservation plans. These producers are also eligible for advance payments up to 50 percent of the cost needed to purchase materials or contracting services to begin installation of approved conservation practices. Producers can find definitions for each category and additional information on the Small & Limited and Beginning Farmers & Ranchers page.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands and their related benefits. Under the Agricultural Land Easements component, NRCS helps Indian tribes, state and local governments, and non-governmental organizations protect working agricultural lands and limit non-agricultural uses of the land.
Seasonal High Tunnels
Seasonal High Tunnels (also called "Hoop Houses") provide revenue opportunities while also promoting conservation for small and mid-sized farmers. They can extend the growing season, allowing more time for local marketing of produce and increasing sustainability while lowering energy and transportation inputs.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program promotes coordination between NRCS and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners. NRCS provides assistance to producers through partnership agreements and through program contracts or easement agreements. Beginning farmers and ranchers may be eligible to participate in a project area depending on the location and the projects selected. Interested farmers and ranchers should contact their local NRCS service center for more details.
A growing number of farmers are using soil health management systems to improve the health and function of their soil. NRCS is working hand-in-hand with these producers through technical and financial assistance programs and services to help ensure their success.
Conservation Assistance through the Farm Service Agency
USDA's Farm Service Agency administers the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a land conservation program. In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production, instead planting species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.
The Emergency Conservation Program provides emergency cost-share assistance to farmers and ranchers to help rehabilitate farmland and ranchland damaged by natural disasters and to carry out water conservation measures during periods of severe drought.
FSA's loan programs, both direct and guaranteed, are also available for the purposes of conservation.
When Sean Stanton started improving the pastures surrounding his small farm in Great Barrington, Mass., his efforts not only benefited the natural resources of this scenic southwest corner of Berkshire County, but also diners at a Manhattan restaurant.