Conservation program support has grown and changed emphasis over the last two decades

A chart showing the trends in major USDA conservation program expenditures, years 1996 to 2013.

USDA relies mainly on voluntary programs providing technical and financial support to encourage farmers to conserve natural resources and protect the environment. Land-retirement programs remove environmentally sensitive land from production, while working-land programs provide assistance to farmers who install or maintain conservation practices on land in crop production and grazing. Common practices include nutrient management, conservation tillage, field-edge filter strips, and fences to exclude livestock from streams. Support for conservation through USDA programs increased by roughly 70 percent between 1996 and 2012 and now amounts to roughly $5 billion annually. A large majority of the increase occurred in working land programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Security Program (2004-2008) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (2009-present). These and other programs, such as agricultural land preservation programs that purchase development rights from farmland owners to maintain land in agricultural uses, supplement land retirement programs and provide farmers with a wide range of options to support their conservation efforts. This chart is found in Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials on the ERS website.

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