2014 Farm Bill Field Guide

Introduction & What is the Farm Bill

Photo by North Dakota Game and Fish.
The Farm Bill is the largest source of federal funding for private lands conservation. As a result, it provides tremendous opportunities for the conservation of habitat for fish and wildlife species. Download this section.

What is known today as the “Farm Bill” is a compilation of many different laws passed by Congress to enhance agricultural productivity, rural economies, food security, and conservation on private lands. The Farm Bill began with the Agricultural Adjustment Act passed in 1933 in response to one of the greatest human-caused environmental catastrophes in U.S. history: the Dust Bowl. Periodically the Farm Bill is re-authorized with evolving policies addressing food, farms, and rural America.

Natural resource conservation has been a component of Farm Bills, to varying degrees, from the very beginning. The Soil Conservation Service (the predecessor to today’s Natural Resources Conservation Service) was created in 1935. Over the years, provisions like the Soil Bank and the Great Plains Conservation Program were developed. These original programs had mixed success, but provided lessons on how conservation efforts could be most effective.

The Food Security Act of 1985 was the first Farm Bill to include a conservation title. It created financial incentives for agricultural producers through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), as well as disincentives through conservation compliance eligibility requirements on highly erodible lands and wetlands. Since 1985, Farm Bill conservation programs have evolved and changed substantially. However, the voluntary, incentive-based program model of the conservation title remains constant.