Soils & Agriculture

America’s farms and ranches provide food, fuel, and fiber for a growing population, but this productivity often comes with environmental costs: Fertilizer and pesticides running into your local creek or favorite fishing hole. Fewer waterfowl – and more flooding – due to drained wetlands and plowed-up grasslands. Blankets of algae cover lakes large and small. Chances are that you’ve seen agriculture’s impact firsthand.

The Izaak Walton League has been involved in agriculture policy since 1937, when we called for a national program to retire fields in mountainous areas from agricultural use. We’ve come a long way since then in understanding the impact of our agricultural system on soil, waters, and wildlife – and how to lessen those impacts. With your help, we can promote conservation in agriculture policy and on-the-ground practices.

2018 Farm Bill

Congress passed a new five-year Farm Bill and the president signed it into law in December 2018. It includes several League priorities, such as full funding for conservation programs; Swampbuster and Sodbuster provisions that protect wetlands and conserve soil; and more funds for conservation easements that pay farmers to protect wetlands, native prairie, and other farmland. The bill also increases the cap on Conservation Reserve Program enrollments to 27 million acres (a boost of 3 million acres) and increases funds to support state and tribal programs that provide hunting and recreation access on private farm and ranch lands.

The League didn’t get everything we wanted out of the new Farm Bill, but it represents a renewal of America’s commitment to fund conservation on farms and ranches.

Learn more about the new Farm Bill and how it affects the natural resources you care about in these "Soil Matters" blogs:

“Leveraging Conservation Dollars: Agricultural Prac­tices that Deliver Water Quality, Wildlife Habitat, and Soil Health” highlights the benefits of focusing federal, state, and local conservation dollars on farm and ranch practices that help solve multiple problems facing rural areas. READ MORE>>>

What Is the Farm Bill?

National farm policy was first developed in the 1930s to mitigate the catastrophic economic impact of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl on America’s farm and rural economies. The Izaak Walton League became involved in agricultural policy in 1937, when the League adopted a resolution calling for a national program to retire fields in mountainous areas from agricultural use.

The Farm Bill is a package of laws that governs a broad array of federal policies, including farm income support, food assistance, agricultural trade, marketing, conservation, and rural development. Congress revisits the policies covered in this legislation approximately every five years through a reauthorization process that revises, adds, removes, and extends components of federal law.

The Farm Bill has greater impact on more U.S. land than any other single piece of federal legislation. Consider that the contiguous 48 states cover 1.9 billion acres of land, of which 71 percent is privately held rural land. Excluding forest land, the private land in agricultural use totals nearly 1 billion acres. By comparison, the surface area of developed land is just 6 percent of total U.S. land use, or 111 million acres. There have been 17 Farm Bills in our nation’s history, beginning with the bill approved in 1933. The most recent Farm Bill was the Agriculture Act of 2014, which was signed into law in February 2014.