Land and Natural Resources
U.S. agricultural production relies heavily on the Nation’s land, water, and other natural resources, and has a direct impact on the quality of the Nation’s natural environment. Over the years, significant improvement in the sector’s productive use of resources has reduced the amount of land and water needed per unit of output, and concerted public and private efforts have greatly improved the sector’s environmental performance. These charts document several aspects of these trends.
USDA conservation efforts rely mainly on voluntary incentive programs to address natural resource issues. The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from production and encourages partial field practices including grass waterways and riparian buffers. Working-land programs provide technical and financial assistance to farmers who install or maintain conservation practices on land in production (e.g., nutrient management, conservation tillage, and field-edge filter strips). Agricultural easements provide long-term protection for agricultural land and wetlands. The Regional Conservation Partners Program coordinates conservation program assistance with partners to solve problems on a regional or watershed scale.
The CRP covered about 22.6 million acres of environmentally sensitive land at the end of fiscal 2018, with an annual budget of roughly $2 billion (making it USDA’s largest single conservation program in terms of spending at that time). Enrollees receive annual rental and other incentive payments for taking eligible land out of production for 10 years or more. Program acreage tends to be concentrated on marginally productive cropland that is susceptible to erosion by wind or rainfall. A large share of CRP land is located in the Plains (from Texas to Montana), where rainfall is limited and much of the land is subject to potentially severe wind erosion. Smaller concentrations of CRP land are found in eastern Washington, southern Iowa, northern Missouri, and the Mississippi Delta.