These programs may be subject to changes under the most current Farm Bill or other laws. Please contact your local USDA Service Center for additional details.
FSA Conservation Loans provide access to direct and guaranteed conservation loans for farmers and ranchers who wish to implement conservation measures on their farm or ranch but do not have the funds for the initial “up-front” costs associated with those measures.190 Loans are available for conservation practices approved by the NRCS, including reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and promoting sustainable and organic agricultural practices.190 Several conservation measures that achieve these goals can also help control wind erosion. Some specific conservation practices listed on the program fact sheet that, depending on the specifics, might also help control wind erosion/dust emissions are: installing conservation structures, establishing forest cover, establishing or improving permanent pastures, and adapting other emerging or existing conservation practices, techniques or technologies. Several of the conservation practices discussed in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 of this handbook could easily fall under these categories and thus might be eligible for a loan to implement. The eligibility of specific practices, however, should always be confirmed directly with the FSA (www.fsa.usda.gov/farmloans or find a local FSA office at www.farmers.gov) before proceeding with any plans or activities. Before financing for any project can be offered, the applicant must have a NRCS-approved conservation plan.190
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
USDA Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a voluntary program whereby participants enter into a contract with the FSA to repurpose environmentally sensitive agricultural land for conservation benefits instead of farming or ranching it.191 These are longterm contracts, and the FSA pays participants a rental fee plus provides cost-share assistance in return for the participant establishing long-term resource conserving cover vegetation (such as approved trees or grasses).191 The purpose of the program is to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat on these environmentally sensitive lands.192 Several practices identified under CRP are consistent with the NRCS practice “Conservation Cover (327)” which has been recognized by the NRCS as helping to control wind erosion. Land may be offered to be enrolled in CRP during the “general sign-up” opportunities that are periodically offered and announced by the USDA.192 Land offers are bid into the program on a competitive basis during these enrollment periods and bids are ranked according to the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI).191 Historically, eligible land “must be cropland that is planted or considered planted to an agricultural commodity for four of six crop years, and that is physically and legally capable of being planted (no planting restrictions due to an easement or other legally binding instrument) in a normal manner to an agricultural commodity."191 Alfalfa or other multiyear grasses and legumes grown in a rotation not to exceed 12 years may also be eligible. "Land also must meet one of the following criteria: Have a weighted average erosion index of eight or higher; Be enrolled in a CRP contract that expires Sept. 30 or; Be located in a national or state CRP conservation priority area.”191
Another option for participating in the CRP program is through Conservation Reserve Program – continuous enrollment. Under the continuous enrollment authority, environmentally sensitive land devoted to certain conservation practices may be offered and enrolled at any time.191 Eligible practices are published by the FSA and can be found on their website as a subheading under the CRP program information.193 Depending on the conservation practice identified, some might also help to control wind erosion even though the primary focus may be to address a different resource concern. For example, vegetation established to enhance water quality and/or control water erosion might also provide some protection from wind erosion as a secondary benefit. Acceptance of offered land under continuous enrollment is not competitive – offers are automatically accepted if land and producer eligibility requirements for the program are met and enrollment levels do not exceed the statutory cap.194 Historically, in order to be eligible, “land must be cropland that is planted or considered planted to an agricultural commodity four of six crop years, and is physically and legally capable of being planted (no planting restrictions due to an easement or other legally binding instrument) in a normal manner to an agricultural commodity. Certain marginal pastureland that may be devoted to riparian buffers is also eligible.”194
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands is a part of the CRP that helps those who own or operate grasslands, including rangeland or pasturelands, protect their lands while retaining the right to use the land for livestock grazing.195 Emphasis is placed on “support for grazing operations, plant and animal biodiversity, and eligible land containing shrubs and forbs under the greatest threat of conversion.”195 Participants receive rental payments from the FSA in return for following an approved CRP conservation plan. FSA will provide cost-share of no more than 50 percent of the participant’s costs for establishing approved practices on eligible land.195 Land must be currently planted in a grass cover in order to be eligible.196 Small livestock operations with 100 or fewer grazing dairy cows or equivalent can submit applications to enroll up to 200 acres per farm.196 Acceptance of offered land is competitive and all offers are ranked by the FSA.196 Ranking criteria is published in the FSA fact sheet Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – Grasslands,196 however interested parties should contact the FSA directly to inquire about the most up to date criteria at the time of their application, and the dates for the current signup period. Conservation practices under the CRP Grasslands program potentially could have a preventative impact on controlling wind erosion by preserving grass cover on lands that might otherwise be converted to cropland or non-agricultural use, however this is speculation and not guaranteed.
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)
The CREP is similar to the CRP-continuous enrollment program in that land may be offered and enrolled on a continuous basis, however one may only enroll land if the state in which the land is in has a CREP agreement.197 CREP is a partnership to address high priority conservation concerns.197 Historically, farmers and ranchers have been paid an annual rental rate, along with other federal and state incentives as applicable, in return for removing environmentally sensitive land from production and instead establishing permanent vegetation that will enhance further conservation of the natural resources on that land.197 Participation is voluntary, and the contract period is typically 10–15 years.197 Interested producers should contact their local FSA office to find out if their state has an active CREP agreement.
Emergency Conservation Program (ECP)
ECP provides assistance to certain agricultural producers in restoring farmland and conservation structures that have been damaged by natural disasters, and for implementing emergency water conservation measures during a severe drought.198 Assistance cannot be used to remedy or address conservation problems that existed before the applicable natural disaster.198 Assistance may be used, however, to restore certain conservation structures that previously existed.198 Restoring windbreaks/shelterbelts or access-control fences that have been damaged by a natural disaster might possibly be an eligible activity under this program, for example. This suggestion is provided as a speculative illustration only however, and inquiries about the specific eligibility of any proposed activity should be directed to a local FSA office, where more information about this program and producer eligibility requirements can also be obtained.
Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP)
EFRP provides financial assistance to eligible owners of nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) land for use in the emergency restoration of land damaged by natural disasters.199 The FSA County Committee inspects the damage to determine if forest land is eligible for EFRP.199 The natural disaster must have resulted in damage that if untreated would impair or endanger the natural resources on the land and/or materially affect future use of the land. The land also must be suitable for growing trees and have existing tree cover (or had tree cover immediately before the natural disaster occurred).199 Due to this being an emergency restoration program, it is possible that any wind erosion-controlling measures covered may be limited to restoring pre-existing conditions, however this suggestion is speculative and inquiries about the eligibility of any specific proposed activity should be directed to a local FSA office.
190. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. Conservation Loan Program (fact sheet). November 2018.
191. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. Conservation Reserve Program (fact sheet). December 2015.
192. Prospective Participants. USDA Farm Service Agency, Conservation Programs. https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/prospective-participants/index. Accessed August 16, 2019.
193. Conservation Reserve Program. United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, Conservation Programs. https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/conservation-reserve-program/index. Accessed August 16, 2019.
194. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – Continuous Enrollment Period Beginning June 4, 2018 (fact sheet). June 2018.
195. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – Grasslands (fact sheet). September 2015. https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/FactSheets/archived-fact-sheets/grasslands_crp_2015_sep2015.pdf.
196. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – Grasslands Signup (fact sheet). March 2020. https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/FactSheets/crp-grasslands-signup_fact-sheet.pdf.
197. Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, Conservation Programs. https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/conservation-reserve-enhancement/index. Accessed August 12, 2019.
198. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) (fact sheet). October 2017.
199. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) (fact sheet). October 2017.