National Priorities

America’s farms and ranches cover more than 900 million acres. That's about 40% of all land in the United States. They 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 covering lakes large and small. America has lost about half of its topsoil since Colonial times, and we continue to lose topsoil far too fast, putting the future of our food system at risk.

The Izaak Walton League has been involved in agriculture policy since the 1930s, when we pressed Congress to create soil conservation programs to deal with the ravages of the Dust Bowl. In the 1950s, the League's Walton Soil Plan became the federal Soil Bank, which helped conserve millions of acres of farmland and presaged the Conservation Reserve Program in the 1985 Farm Bill.

We’ve come a long way in understanding the impact of our agricultural system on soil, waters, wildlife, and our climate – and in knowing how soil health practices and other conservation systems can lessen those impacts. With your help, we can promote conservation in agriculture policy and on-the-ground practices.

Conservation and the Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive food and farm law that provides nearly $90 billion per year for nutrition assistance to schools and the poor, income support for farmers, rural development aid, research, trade, and conservation programs. Of that, $6 billion per year are for conservation programs that help farmers and ranchers be better land stewards. We press Members of Congress to ensure those dollars are delivered.

Congress writes a new Farm Bill about every five years. The president signed the most recent Farm Bill into law in December 2018. This newest version 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 raises 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 in the new Farm Bill, but the version that was adopted represents a renewal of America’s commitment to fund conservation on farms and ranches. The changes Congress made in 2018 are now being implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and we provide input to USDA on how the agency's proposed rules can do a better job of conserving our soil, air, woods, water, and wildlife.

Learn more about the 2018 Farm Bill and how it affects our natural resources.

More Bang for Our Bucks

A 2018 report from the League covers five cost-effective conservation practices that deliver benefits for water quality, wildlife, soil health, and our climate. Leveraging Conservation Dollars describes five key on-farm practices and the many benefits they deliver.

Focusing our tax dollars on farm and ranch practices that solve multiple resource problems is smart conservation. While use of the five practices we reviewed is growing, none are in place on more than one-third of America’s farm and ranch lands. There is clearly room for improvement.