"Agricultural conservation has been a public policy issue for more than 60 years. Congress has repeatedly taken action on the issue through water and soil legislation, often as part of omnibus farm bills. Early policy decisions were directed at addressing natural resource concerns on the farm, primarily reducing high levels of soil erosion and providing water to agriculture in quantities and quality that enhanced farm production. In more recent years, conservation policy has shifted to concerns about the off-farm impacts of agricultural activities. The latest farm bill, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. [Public Law] 110-246), reauthorized most existing conservation programs, modified several programs, and created a few new programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) conservation efforts have centered on implementing these conservation programs through working land conservation practices, retiring land from production or establishing conservation easements, and providing technical assistance. Program implementation controversies could lead to congressional oversight or action, especially given the recent financial statement audit reports on conservation program payments at USDA. Other emerging issues in the 111th Congress could have a significant impact on agricultural conservation. The climate change debate and use of ecosystem services markets has brought conservation to the forefront of discussion on the role of agriculture in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Also, the effect of ethanol production on natural resources and changes in land use is an ongoing concern in the area of biofuels policy."
CRS Report for Congress, R40692
National Agricultural Law Center: http:nationalaglawcenter.org/