On April 18, the House Agriculture Committee marked up and passed H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. This bill, more commonly known as the Farm Bill, was introduced by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Member and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Representative Michael Conaway (TX) on April 12.
The current Farm Bill, which includes many important conservation programs for our nation’s fish and wildlife populations, was authorized in 2014 and is set to expire in September. If passed and signed into law, the new Farm Bill will ensure the future of these critical programs that help support soil, water, and fish and wildlife conservation on America’s private lands, farms, ranches, and forests.
Title II, also known as the Conservation Title, of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 contains a number of pro-sportsmen’s provisions, including:
- Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – Allows farmers to take environmentally sensitive land out of production in exchange for rental payments. In addition to capping rental payments for CRP lands to 80% of the land’s rental rate, H.R. 2 will increase the CRP acreage cap from the current cap of 24 million acres to 29 million acres over the life of the Farm Bill.
- Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) — A voluntary, incentive-based program that provides financial and technical assistance to protect, restore, and enhance agriculture lands and wetlands through the purchase of easements. H.R. 2 will provide $500 million in annual funding for ACEP.
- Voluntary Public Access and Hunter Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) — A competitive grant program that provides state and tribal governments with funds to increase public access to private lands for hunting and fishing, as well as other wildlife-dependent forms of recreation. H.R. 2 will authorize $50 million over the life of the bill until 2023 for VPA-HIP.
- Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) — Encourages conservation partner organizations to leverage their own funds, along with RCPP grant funds, to collaborate with producers and landowners to increase the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife, and related natural resources on regional or watershed scales. H.R. 2 will authorize $250 million for each fiscal year through 2023 for RCPP.
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) — Provides agricultural producers with financial and technical assistance to implement conservation practices on lands in active production in order to provide cleaner water, improve air quality, healthy soil, and wildlife habitat. H.R. 2 will increase funding for EQIP to $3 billion per year over the life of the Farm Bill, while eliminating the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Under H.R. 2, some aspects of the CSP will be rolled into EQIP.
- Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program (new provision) – H.R. 2 provides $100 million towards a pilot program addressing feral swine, which cause over $1 billion of crop damages annually across the country and have immensely negative impacts on water, wildlife, and wildlife habitat.
“The reauthorization of the Farm Bill is a critical, bipartisan priority for sportsmen and women around the country,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) President Jeff Crane. “We sincerely appreciate Chairman Conaway and the other members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus who are working to ensure the important conservation provisions of Title II remain a fundamental component of the next iteration of the Farm Bill.”
The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to introduce their own Farm Bill legislation in the coming weeks, while H.R. 2 currently awaits scheduling for a floor vote in the House of Representatives.
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