Policy Pulse: USDA Publishes Rule Re-linking Crop Insurance to Conservation Compliance

In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its much-anticipated interim rule re-establishing the link between basic conservation measures – such as preventing soil loss and protecting wetlands – and eligibility for federal crop insurance premium subsidies.

Under the rule, to be eligible for crop insurance premium subsidies, producers farming on highly-erodible lands (as determined by USDA) must implement a conservation plan to prevent excessive soil loss. Additionally, producers cannot continue to receive crop insurance premium subsidies if they drain wetlands on their property.

Tying eligibility for crop insurance subsidies to conservation compliance was a major victory for the League and our colleague groups in the 2014 Farm Bill, but it’s not an entirely new concept. Conservation compliance provisions have been in place for most USDA programs – including crop insurance – since 1985. It was not until 1996 that Congress severed the link between conservation and crop insurance, which is one of the most popular Farm Bill programs. The new rule will bring an estimated 1.5 million additional acres of highly erodible lands under conservation plans, and could protect up to 1.1 million additional wetland acres, according to the rule’s cost-benefit analysis.

Critical to a successful conservation compliance program is a robust enforcement plan to make sure these conservation practices are not just certified on paper but implemented on the ground as well. The League will be working with other conservation organizations to analyze and comment on the interim rule.