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New Land Ownership Data Add Value to Many Policy and Research Questions

Whether they farm the land themselves or rent it out to others to farm, those who own agricultural land are taking measures to keep the land in their families. This is good news for those who worry about the United States losing agricultural land to competing pressures.

At USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, we just released the findings from a survey of agricultural landowners conducted earlier this year. It confirmed some things we know already and generated lots of new information that farmers, policymakers, businesses and others will use to understand more about who owns farmland, who has and will have access to farmland in the future, what kinds of conservation and production decision landowners are making, and lots more.

Saving the Nation's Wetlands

Wetlands are one of nature’s most productive ecosystems. They clean and recharge groundwater; reduce the damaging impacts of floods; enhance wildlife habitat; sequester carbon; and create diverse recreation opportunities such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching and canoeing.

Thousands of landowners voluntarily take big and small actions every day to protect, restore and enhance wetlands and wildlife habitat. Seventy-five percent of the nation’s wetlands are located on private and tribal lands.

USDA Launches Environmental Markets Website

On April 13, 2015, the U.S. Water Prize was awarded to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) for its innovative effort to develop and establish a multi-state water quality trading program in the Ohio River Basin. Through this program, utilities are paying farmers to implement conservation practices that reduce nutrient runoff into local waterways.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), part of USDA, has been a Federal leader in supporting the development of Environmental Markets, including the groundbreaking Ohio River Basin trading program. To help our stakeholders and the public understand our interest and role in environmental markets, I’m excited to announce that today we are launching a series of new web pages dedicated to NRCS’s work in supporting the development of environmental markets.

Wisconsin: Pollinator Week Highlights Addition of Bee-Friendly Prairie Habitat

James MacDonald owns 120 acres of rural land in Green County, Wisconsin. Through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), James expanded relic prairie on his land, including planting 3 acres of native pollinator mix through EQIP financial assistance. His prairie is in blossom all summer, with plants blooming at different times. "There are hundreds of prairie plants and they sort of pass off who's in bloom, so from the end of the snow until the snow falls again there's always something in bloom," said James.

MacDonald says between his neighbors, there are about 100 hives within two miles of his property, so many bees use his prairie for food. James had a good idea of what bee-friendly mixes he wanted to plant so NRCS provided financial assistance, as well as technical assistance in site visits and checking to ensure his seed mix was adequate.

Wisconsin: Pollinator Week Highlights Buzzing Success of Local Beekeeper

Pam Gasper, of Chaseburg, Wisconsin, has been a bee keeper for the past three years. She recently restored 2 acres on her property to include natural habitat for bees through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). A dry summer and harsh winter in 2014 caused Pam to lose two of her three honey bee hives. She’s done her research, received technical and financial assistance from NRCS, and made some proactive changes for 2015. Pam is expecting a good harvest and “sweet reward” due to financial and technical assistance through EQIP from NRCS. She’s a strong advocate for the program and said the sign-up process was smooth and worth it.

NRCS staff provided financial assistance through EQIP and also the technical assistance Pam needed, including, site visits, a planting plan, providing options for obtaining seeds, and completing the final inspection of the successful planting just last week. Technical and financial assistance from agencies such as USDA−NRCS and programs like EQIP work to assist land users in accomplishing their goals.

USDA and Landowners Work Together to Overcome Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

In a time of need, America’s private landowners voluntarily made conservation improvements to their land to aid recovery following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico region. Landowners are working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to put conservation systems to work on their farms, ranches and forests that clean and conserve water, boost soil health and restore habitat – all while making their working lands more resilient.

Since 2010, tens of thousands have made conservation improvements to more than 22 million acres in the five Gulf states during fiscal years 2010-2014.

“Landowners are really interested and committed to doing good things on their lands, said Wesley Kerr, NRCS area conservationist in southern Mississippi.

Longleaf Pines Flourish on an East Texas Ranch

In deep East Texas, pine trees are king. Towering pines line the roads and blanket the rolling countryside and national forests. Loblolly and slash pine dominate the landscape in contrast to the area’s historic longleaf pine trees that once reigned.

The reduced number of longleaf pines has not gone unnoticed by landowners and conservationists. In response to the striking loss of longleaf pine trees from Texas to Florida, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched the national Longleaf Pine Initiative, which provides technical and financial assistance for conservation practices that help restore longleaf pine forests and enhance existing pine stands.

USDA Helps Landowners Manage for Soil Health, Buffer Drought Effects

Soil health is always important, but extreme weather in the last few years has shown landowners just how important managing for it really is.

“The vital part of soil is topsoil, which unfortunately is also the part most susceptible to the effects of weather. That’s what makes protecting it so crucial,” said Doug Miller, soil health coordinator with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Minnesota.

The top two components of topsoil are clay content and soil organic matter that hold nutrients and water for plant use and growth.

Kentucky Youngster Sees Firsthand the Importance of Wetland Restoration

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps private landowners return fields and pastures that were drained for agricultural use back to their natural state – wetlands. This is because of the value that wetlands provide: they filter and store water, they prevent floods and they provide vital homes to wildlife.

Mark Putman in Christian County, Ky. is seeing the benefits on land he enrolled into a conservation easement with NRCS. Thanks to the wetland restoration project, he and his 10-year-old cousin, A.J., have a great story to tell.

Putman owns and operates a guided and non-guided hunting operation, so restoring the land to attract more wildlife was important. He and his family also enjoy hunting deer, ducks and turkey.

High Tunnel Gives Kentucky Farmers Advantage with Berries and Other Produce

Similar to the old adage, when Chris Adams married the wife, he married the family – and the family farm. Lucky for him, he loves farming and enjoys working with his in-laws to manage the 4,000-acre farm of soybeans, wheat and corn.  Now it’s his full-time job, working with his brother-in-law to raise fields of commodity crops each year. But recently, Chris and Tracy Adams, and the rest of the family, began experimenting with farming at a much smaller scale.

They built a seasonal high tunnel, a greenhouse-like structure that produces a plentiful supply of strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and peppers. High tunnels are made of plastic or metal pipe and covered with sheeting, typically made of plastic. Unlike greenhouses, they require no energy to heat, instead relying on natural sunlight to create favorable conditions for growing vegetables and other specialty crops.