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, 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 improved the sector’s environmental performance. These charts illustrate several aspects of these trends.
USDA provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers through voluntary conservation programs to address natural resource concerns. USDA’s funding for major working lands conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, has more than doubled over the past 25 years. At the same time, funding for the Conservation Reserve Program has stayed fairly constant. The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Working land programs provide technical and financial assistance to producers who use, install, or maintain conservation practices on land in production (e.g., nutrient management, cover crops, and field-edge filter strips). Agricultural easements provide long-term protection for agricultural land and wetlands. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a partner-driven program that leverages partner resources to advance innovative projects that address natural resource challenges on agricultural land.
USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) covered about 22.0 million acres of environmentally sensitive land at the end of fiscal 2022, with an annual budget of roughly $1.8 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 was 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 were found in eastern Washington, southern Iowa, northern Missouri, the Mississippi Delta, and southeastern Idaho and northwestern Utah.