Conservation Compliance and U.S. Farm Policy [August 25, 2015]   [open pdf - 1012KB]

"The Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198, 1985 farm bill) included a number of significant agricultural conservation provisions designed to reduce farm production and conserve soil and water resources. Many of the provisions remain in effect today, including the two compliance provisions--highly erodible land conservation (sodbuster) and wetland conservation (swampbuster). The two provisions, collectively referred to as conservation compliance, require that in exchange for certain U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program benefits, a producer agrees to maintain a minimum level of conservation on highly erodible land and not to convert wetlands to crop production. Conservation compliance affects most USDA benefits administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). These benefits can include commodity support payments, disaster payments, farm loans, and conservation program payments, to name a few. If a producer is found to be in violation of conservation compliance, then a number of penalties could be enforced. These penalties range from temporary exemptions that allow the producer time to correct the violation, to a determination that the producer is ineligible for any USDA farm payment and must pay back current and prior years' benefits. […] The leveling off of erosion reductions leaves broad policy questions related to conservation compliance, including whether an acceptable level of soil erosion on cropland has been achieved; whether additional reductions could be achieved, and, if so, at what cost; and how federal farm policy could encourage additional reductions in erosion."

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CRS Report for Congress, R42459
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