USDA announces $350 million for restoring conservation lands

“The benefits of restoring, enhancing and protecting these working agricultural lands and critical wetlands cannot be overstated,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who announced the availability of the funding on Thursday (Nov. 19).

Do you have farmland, grasslands or wetlands that would be better off in a government program than being farmed or left idle because you can’t count on it to be dry enough to plant or harvest?

You may be interested in a program with $350 million in funding announced by USDA that can help growers “protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands” in the Mid-South states and across the nation.

“The benefits of restoring, enhancing and protecting these working agricultural lands and critical wetlands cannot be overstated,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who announced the availability of the funding on Thursday (Nov. 19).

“USDA is committed to preserving working agricultural lands to help protect the long-term viability of farming across the country, as well as restoring and protecting vital sensitive wetlands that provide important wildlife habitat and improve water quality,” he said in a statement released by the Agriculture Department.

The funding will be provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which was created by the Agricultural Act of 2014 to protect critical water resources and wildlife habitat while assisting private owners with maintaining land for farming and ranching.

Vilsack said ACEP's agricultural land easements protect the long-term viability of the nation's food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural use lands. Easements also support environmental quality, wildlife habitat, historic preservation and protection of open spaces.

Native American tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to purchase conservation easements.

Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully restore, enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce damage from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities, the USDA press release said.

Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.

In FY 2014 and FY 2015, the NRCS invested more than $600 million in ACEP funding to help landowners engage in voluntary conservation to provide long-term protection of an estimated 250,000 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through more than 750 new easements.

To learn about ACEP and other technical and financial assistance available through NRCS conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or contact your local USDA Service Center. To locate your nearest NRCS office: http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app.

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