Trump budget would undo gains from conservation programs on farms and ranches

Read the full story in The Conversation.

Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are starting to shape the 2018 farm bill – a comprehensive food and agriculture bill passed about every five years. Most observers associate the farm bill with food policy, but its conservation section is the single largest source of funding for soil, water and wildlife conservation on private land in the United States.

Farm bill conservation programs provide about US$5.8 billion yearly for activities such as restoring wildlife habitat and using sustainable farming practices. These programs affect about 50 million acres of land nationwide. They conserve millions of acres of wildlife habitat and provide ecological services such as improved water quality, erosion control and enhanced soil health that are worth billions of dollars.

Sixty percent of U.S. land is privately owned, and it contains a disproportionately high shareof habitat for threatened and endangered species. This means that to conserve land and wildlife, it is critical to work with private landowners, particularly farmers and ranchers. Farm bill conservation programs provide cost shares, financial incentives and technical assistance to farmers and other private landowners who voluntarily undertake conservation efforts on their land.

President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget request would slash funding for farm bill conservation programs by about $13 billion over 10 years, on top of cuts already sustained in the 2014 farm bill. In a recent study, we found that it is highly uncertain whether the benefits these programs have produced will be maintained if they are cut further.

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