Federal Farm Bill – Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Earlier this year, the House and Senate passed independent versions of the 2018 Farm Bill. Now those two bills need to be reconciled. The Senate version provides critical support for important conservation programs that provide farmers with their fair share of resources to reduce pollution, remain profitable, and improve water quality. In addition, it contains amendments to two important programs: the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Unfortunately, the House version fails to make critical reforms to improve conservation program performance and delivery in the Bay watershed. See below for more information.

Historically, CREP has been instrumental in getting forested riparian buffers and other conservation practices on the ground, but enrollment has waned in recent years.

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey introduced legislative language aimed to reinvigorate CREP, thereby helping Pennsylvania and the other Bay jurisdictions meet state Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.

There appears to be interest from both the House and Senate committees to resume negotiations on the bill after the November election. CBF remains vigilant in working with senators and representatives from all six states in the watershed to make sure that progress is made and that the 2018 Farm Bill provides the critical partnership and support necessary to restore the Bay. Overview of Farm Bill Priorities for the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

CREP is a subprogram of CRP that helps landowners in the Bay watershed plant trees along the banks of streams, referred to as forested riparian buffers. These buffers significantly reduce sediment and nutrient runoff and are one of the most cost-effective methods of improving water quality. Recognizing this, the Chesapeake Bay watershed states committed to foresting 70 percent of the riparian (stream bank) area in the watershed by 2025 by restoring 900 miles of buffers each year. Unfortunately, throughout the watershed, CREP has underperformed and states are far from reaching their goals.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is a longtime partner in the CREP program. In Pennsylvania alone, CBF’s restoration specialists have assisted farmers in installing more than 2,300 miles of stream buffers since 1997. Learn more about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). To do this, we have leveraged roughly $25 million in private, state, and federal resources. Based on this experience, we identified critical issues and policy options for improving delivery and implementation of the program and shared them with senators from the Bay watershed.

This spring, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey introduced The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) Improvement Act of 2018. This bill addresses the issues CBF raised, increasing the tools and resources—including funding and much needed technical assistance—that farmers need to implement and manage conservation measures effectively.

In 2014, Congress established the RCPP in an effort to prioritize conservation resources and attract and leverage private sector partners and resources. The RCPP replaced the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, which had been unique for its commitment to target resources to priority lands. The new program was designed "to accomplish the functions of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program."

Unfortunately, the RCPP has not lived up to this goal. The number of partnerships and allocated federal resources for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed have been lower than anticipated. Annual funding for water quality improvement has dropped from an average of $50 million to about $13 million. While the RCPP requires the USDA to report on which critical conservation conditions the projects address, it does not require reporting on the results to water quality. On the administrative side, stakeholders have experienced significant issues with the RCPP.

CBF coordinated policy discussions among stakeholders and agriculture restoration specialists to develop recommendations for adjustments that would ensure the program performs as intended. For details on specific issues and recommendations, see CBF’s white paper, "Strengthening the Regional Conservation Partnership Program for the Chesapeake Bay Region."