Are You Complying With USDA Soil Conservation Rules?

Iowa FSA reminds farmers that highly erodible land and wetland compliance remain in effect.

Published on: Apr 29, 2013

In order for farmers to receive farm program payments from USDA and participate in USDA farm programs, compliance with the government's Highly Erodible Land conservation provisions and the Wetland Conservation provisions are required.

John Whitaker, state executive director for USDA's Farm Service Agency in Iowa, is reminding farmers about the rules. The situation with land that's designated as highly erodible and land designated as wetland is raising questions. With high grain prices farmers are pulling more land out of pasture, hay and the Conservation Reserve Program and planting it to corn and soybeans. In some cases wetlands have been drained and planted to crops.

CONSERVATION COMPLIANCE: This year has seen an increase in number of Iowa farmers found to be "Out of Compliance" with USDA soil conservation rules. In some cases, fines have been levied. To receive farm program payments, compliance with Highly Erodible Land provisions and Wetland Conservation rules is required. Annually, NRCS makes visits to farms to verify the land is being farmed according to an acceptable conservation plan or system.
CONSERVATION COMPLIANCE: This year has seen an increase in number of Iowa farmers found to be "Out of Compliance" with USDA soil conservation rules. In some cases, fines have been levied. To receive farm program payments, compliance with Highly Erodible Land provisions and Wetland Conservation rules is required. Annually, NRCS makes visits to farms to verify the land is being farmed according to an acceptable conservation plan or system.

"With the one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, producers are reminded that highly erodible land conservation provisions and wetland conservation provisions remain in effect for the 2013 program year," says Whitaker. "Farmers are reminded to follow tillage, crop residue and crop rotation requirements as specified in their conservation plans. Farmers should notify their local FSA office prior to conducting any land clearing, including tree removal or drainage projects, to insure compliance." 

What are the basic restrictions of conservation compliance? What are definitions of HEL and WC provisions?

Persons who produce an agricultural commodity on a field(s) where highly erodible soil is predominant, are eligible for USDA program benefits unless it has been determined by NRCS that an acceptable conservation system is not being actively applied. This conservation system must be adequate for highly erodible land and will be based on the local NRCS technical guide. ~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Under the Wetland Conservation provisions, persons are ineligible for USDA program benefits if they: plant an agricultural commodity on a wetland that was converted after December 23, 1985; or if they convert a wetland after November 28, 1990, by draining dredging, filing, leveling or any other means for the purpose, or to have the effect, of making the production of an agricultural commodity possible.

Last summer's drought conditions may have affected required seeding that was needed to remain in compliance. These stands could be thin or didn't have the expected germination. If you are in this situation, consult with your local NRCS office about applying for a variance, so that your eligibility for USDA payments can be protected.

Review your conservation plan and discuss your farming practices with local NRCS staff

Much of the acreage that's been offered into CRP was eligible because the land was highly erodible. Producers should review their conservation plan or discuss their conservation systems with NRCS before former CRP acreage is converted back to agricultural production, says Whitaker. If planting or field tillage has encroached into the boundaries of the CRP acreage, the contract is in non-compliance status and subject to termination or penalty.

For more information on Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation provisions, contact your local FSA office or visit FSA online.

"As a final note, remember safety when you are on roadways and in fields this spring," says Whitaker. "Gas and power lines are located beneath the soil surface and tragic accidents have occurred in our state when they have been struck when farmers have conducted land clearing or drainage projects. A simple call to the state's One Call system could have prevented these tragedies." Dial 811 or go online to have lines located in your area.