The 2018 Farm Bill, Part Seven: Conservation Beyond Cultivable Lands

by Maya Vesneske

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

This is the seventh in a series of Snapshots breaking down the $867 billion Farm Bill that was signed into law on December 20, 2018, and is effective through fiscal year 2023. Each Snapshot focuses on a particular section or topic within the bill and explains its implications for U.S. agriculture over the course of the next five years.

Policy Name: Title VIII of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, aka the Farm Bill

Location: The 2018 Farm Bill is a bipartisan, federally-enacted law containing provisions and recommendations that are effective on state and local levels.

Overview: Approximately every five years, the United States Congress passes a new Farm Bill whose purpose is to reevaluate the agricultural landscape of the country and determine new protections, procedures, and funding for the various players in this diverse and interwoven network of food producers, traders, and consumers. Read more about the the general purposes and development of a Farm Bill here.

Title VIII of the bill covers forestry practices and policies for foresters and forest owners across the U.S. It is intended to provide guidelines for conservation and health, cultivation, management, and related issues such as wildfires, water quality and protection. This article will address a couple of the programs that play a major role in conservation efforts on non-cultivated lands:

  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) works with farmers, family forest owners and ranchers on a voluntary basis to improve conservation and sustainability on their land. Payments are made to forest owners to address a specific natural resource identified at the local level (e.g. water, air, or soil quality) and to work with local technical advisory groups in order to meet that resource’s conservation needs. Special attention is given to historically disadvantaged farmers by providing them with increased and more regular funding.
  • The Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) allows state and local government agencies to manage forest land in order to maintain the health and productivity of forests around the country.  

Program/Policy Initiated:The policies discussed here were enacted in previous versions of the Farm Bill, and any reforms or repeals made in the 2018 bill are effective for the 2019 coverage cycle. Effective dates vary from one policy to another and changes may be enacted in waves.

Food policy category: Sustainable Agriculture

How it works: Amendments to the Forestry Title of the Farm Bill for the FY2019-FY2023 cycle include a variety of budgeting and practice changes, and affect family forest owners, foresters, and conservationists. The most important amendments are as follows:

  • A few changes and additions greatly expand the capacity of EQIP:
    • Some of the funds from the repealed Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) are redirected towards EQIP, contributing to a total increase in funding of more than $1 billion over the four fiscal years, for a total of $9.125 billion.
    • Stewardship Contracts is a new incentive program directed towards improving resource management practices. These contracts are specifically designed to work on a local level and are rewarded to forest owners whose conservation efforts will address natural resources that state agencies have identified as particularly vulnerable. Each contract is for a period of 5-10 years and provides up to $50,000 annually for the recipient.
    • $25 million is set aside for a new program that works with farmers to test new or innovative conservation methods on a trial basis.  
    • The definition of conservation “practices” is expanded to include cover crops, or those whose cultivation improves soil conservation, such as rye or radishes, which are planted in the off season between cash crops.
  • The Good Neighbor Authority program has been revised to provide local governments and decision-makers with even more authority over forest management by simplifying the processes of advisory and project execution at the local level. The program has also been expanded to include Native American tribes and counties in the list of authorized entities in order to improve forest management on tribal land.
  • Additional changes were made to a variety of policies that expand programs and generally increase eligibility for projects related to preventing and dealing with the aftermath of forest fires. These specifically include:
    • A new specification that funding and acreage for public and private restoration and improvement projects should be allocated for wildfire risk reduction, including but not limited to the removal of risky vegetation, planting conifer trees, permitting more livestock grazing in at-risk forests and stricter management of hazardous fuel.
    • An amendment to the Emergency Conservation Program to include wildfires in the list of natural disasters for which emergency funding and technical assistance are provided.

Progress to date: Given how recently the current bill was passed, it is too soon to know how these policy changes will specifically affect specialty crop production in the U.S.

Evaluation: The Forestry Title of the Farm Bill plays an important role in expanding conservation efforts to include uncultivated lands. The 2018 changes and additions show an increased acknowledgement of the importance of these lands and their overseers. Amendments that prioritize programming and funding on a local level are a move in the right direction, as local discretion regarding land and forest conservation has the potential to be more targeted, more efficient, and to provide local farmers and conservationists with more agency when it comes to protecting land and improving sustainability.

Similar practices: To understand the context and significance of the changes in the 2018 Farm Bill, it is useful to compare it to previous versions. To learn more about how the 2018 bill compares to the 2014 version, check out the first resource in the “Learn more” section below.

Learn more:


Point of Contact:

House bill sponsor Mike Conaway (R-TX-11), Washington, D.C., office:

Phone: (202) 225-3605

Or, email his office via this form.



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