CONSERVATION RESERVE PROGRAM (CRP)
  SENATE HOUSE
Overview of changes: 1 million more acres will be added to the program. 30 and 40% of continuous sign up enrollments are now respectively prioritized for wildlife and water quality enhancements. The increase in acreage is balanced out by capping payments at 88.5% of the rental rate. Authorizes the creation of 'conservation reserve easements', which are permanent retirements of qualified land. 5 million more acres will be added to the program. The increase in acreage is balanced out by capping payments at 80% of the rental rate, with the payment percentage decreasing in further re-enrollments. The $23 million decrease in spending over the next decade is a drop in the bucket versus the annual spending on CRP (almost $2 billion a year).
Change in Spending: No change in spending Reduces spending by $23 million
GENERAL CHANGES
  CURRENT LAW SENATE BILL HOUSE BILL
    Proposed Changes Proposed Changes
    S. 3042, sec. 2101 H.R. 2, sec. 2201
When It Expires: 2018 2023 2023
Enrollment Process: Capped at 24 million acres Capped at 25 million acres. Capped at 29 million acres (increasing at the rate of 1 million per year). Additionally, to the maximum extent possible, the Secretary is encouraged to maintain acreage enrollments in proportion to historic enrollments from 2007-2016. A general sign-up is to be performed at least every other year. Lastly, areas with hardwood trees are limited to one re-enrollment.
Grassland acreage: Capped at 2 million acres Maintains the same cap as current law, and grants priority to expiring acres and those promoting wildlife habitat. Applications can now be submitted on a continuous, rolling basis. Includes an annual step up of half a million acres up to at least 3 million acres by 2023.
Continuous Sign-up changes: Continuous sign-up acreage is not designated specifically for wildlife enhancement or improving water quality. Continuous enrollments are for 10-15 years, just like General enrollment. 30% of continuous acreage is designated priority for wildlife enhancement. 40% of continuous acreage is designated priority for water quality improvements. Enrollment is either 15 years or 30 years.
SAFE Areas designations: N/A State and Indian Tribes are authorized to request new SAFE area designations. Priority will be given to wildlife habitat areas and the Secretary will give priority to a diversity of regions when making designations. No changes.
FARMABLE WETLAND PROGRAM
  CURRENT LAW SENATE BILL HOUSE BILL
    Proposed Changes Proposed Changes
    S. 3042, sec. 2102 H.R. 2, sec. 2202
When It Expires: 2018 2023 2023
Enrollment Process: Capped at 750,000 acres, and the Secretary has the discretion to increase the cap by 200,000 acres. No changes. Capped at 500,000 acres, and revokes the Secretary's ability to increase the cap.
Acreage requirements: Owners may only enroll land that enhances wildlife to the extent practicable in terms of upland to wetland ratios as determined by the Secretary. No changes. Removes the wildlife benefit ratio requirement.
Commercial Use: Enrolled lands cannot be used commercially No changes. Enrolled lands can be used commercially.
Incentive Payments: The Secretary can apply incentive payments to wetlands projects. No changes. Incentive payments for wetlands are removed.
DUTIES OF OWNERS AND OPERATORS
  CURRENT LAW SENATE BILL HOUSE BILL
    Proposed Changes Proposed Changes
      H.R. 2, sec. 2203
Management practices: Grazing is only allowed when managed or in emergencies, but unclear what that means. No changes. Thinning and other practices that improve the condition of the resources, promote forest management, and enhance wildlife habitat on natural land devote to trees qualify as managed grazing.
Commercial Use: Enrolled lands cannot be used commercially No changes. Enrolled lands can be used commercially in some circumstances, although it does not specify what qualifies.
DUTIES OF THE SECRETARY
  CURRENT LAW SENATE BILL HOUSE BILL
    Proposed Changes Proposed Changes
    S. 3042, sec. 2103 H.R. 2, sec. 2204
Haying and Grazing: Haying and grazing can only occur if managed & approved or in emergency situations, and only done at least every 5 years but no more than once every 3 years. The Secretary can permit harvesting and grazing on all land but only if it doesn't permanently damage vegetative cover. A state governor can declare an emergency due to drought or wildfire to permit haying and grazing. The Secretary can permit harvesting and grazing on all land but only if it doesn't occur more than once every three years and with at least 25% of the land unharvested. Land adjacent to CRP land can be used for vegetative buffer practices, but will incur a 25% reduction in rental payment unless the activity is used to address a mid-contract management requirement. Lastly, land is eligible for grazing due to drought or when the Secretary waives requirements due to natural disasters.
PAYMENTS
  CURRENT LAW SENATE BILL HOUSE BILL
    Proposed Changes Proposed Changes
    S. 3042, sec. 2104 H.R. 2, sec. 2205
Cost Share: Water quality cost share is 50%. Seed cost share is 50%. Payment for tree thinning and forest stand management is 150% of the cost. Payment can exceed cost of installation. No changes. Cost of establishing water quality cost share decreases from to no more than 40 percent. Limits cost share for the seed component of the cover establishment to 25% of the cost. Cost-share payments cannot be made when grazing is used as a mid-contract management practice. When installing cover, the payment cannot exceed the cost of the installation. Likewise, payments for tree thinning and forest stand management are reduced to 100% of the cost. The cost share with states for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is reduced to 50%.
Rental Rates: Payments are determined by 100% of the estimated rental rate. Directs the Secretary to make payments for continuous enrollment contracts if the national average price is above a 10-year floor. Payments are limited to 88.5% of the estimated rental rate. Requires USDA to consider the impact to the local farmland rental market when determining rental rates. Rates are reduced to 80% of the established rental rate at the time of enrollment. Further enrollments decline by 15% for the next enrollment and 10% for each enrollment thereafter.
Surveys and Evaluation of Rates: Rental rate surveys are completed every other year. The Secretary will conduct an annual survey to establish rental rates, including the valuation of marginal and environmentally sensitive land. Rental rate estimate surveys are completed every year and must be published by Sept. 15th.
  CURRENT LAW SENATE BILL HOUSE BILL
    Proposed Changes Proposed Changes
    S. 3042, sec. 2105  
Authorization: CREP already exists in the same manner as in these changes. This is basically a re-authorization. Authorizes CREP to create partnerships between the Secretary and state or tribal lands. The partner must provide funds or technical assistance to a CREP project. The Secretary will provide cost payments for projects, and must create a project that includes riparian buffers. Forested reparian buffers now allow the planting and harvesting of woody plans and require assistance to be provided to the state forestry agency.  No changes.
CONTRACTS
  CURRENT LAW SENATE BILL HOUSE BILL
    Proposed Changes Proposed Changes
    S. 3042, sec. 2106 H.R. 2, sec. 2206
Transition Contracts: The benefits to beginning farmers and ranchers were already a part of the Food Security Act. Authorizes a short-term lease as a transition option. Establishes priority for certain land (enrolled in conservation stewardship program, agricultural conservation easement program, or grassland) for enrollment into the transition program Land can be transitioned to beginning farmer or rancher to prepare land for crop use and provides extended time for entry into Organic Food Production Act certification. The Secretary provides technical and financial assistance to assist the beginning farmer or rancher in transitioning the enrolled acreage through a conservation plan.
Expiring Contracts: Previously you could not prepare land before the contract expired. Technically the Secretary already had the ability to end contracts early at any time. Defines what a 'covered contract' is to qualify for a Conservation Reserve Easement. These are contracts entered between the passage of the Farm Bill and 9/30/23, are under the clean lakes, estuaries, and rivers priority, and are located in a state acres for wildlife enhancement. These covered contracts can either enter the new program or re-enter CRP but with a 40% lower rental rate with no incentive payments. There is an exception if the Secretary deems the land unsuitable for the new program. Expiring contracts can enter the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in the final year, and allows expiring CRP acreage into organic food production to begin preparing for transition in the final 3 years of the contract. The Secretary can terminate contracts early in FY 2019.
CONSERVATION RESERVE EASEMENTS
  CURRENT LAW SENATE BILL HOUSE BILL
    Proposed Changes Proposed Changes
    S. 3042, sec. 2107  
Authorization: Does not exist. Authorizes the creation of 'Conservation Reserve Easements' which are permanent retirements of covered contracts. In this program (qualifying land is described in section 2106-  Contracts), repairs, improvements, and inspections for the purpose of maintaining public drainage systems are permitted. The owner may control public access to the land as he manages the easement and creates access routes used for restoration activities. Hunting, fishing, timber harvest, and haying and grazing are permitted. Alteration of wildlife habitats, spraying the land with chemicals, mowing the land, degrading adjacent land, and adopting practices that would defeat the purpose of the CRP are all not permitted unless permitted by the Secretary. If there is a violation, the easement remains in force but the Secretary may require the owner refund part or all of payments made under the program, with interest. The rental rate will be a cash payment of 10 or 1 annual payments as early as possible equal to the lowest of 1) the fair market value of the land, the amount corresponding to a geographic limitation (as determined by the Secretary) or 3) the offer made by the landowner. If a State does not permit permanent easements, payments will be between 50-75% of the permanent value of the easement. The Secretary will being a plan to create the program and help landowners navigate the new program, and may delegate management, monitoring, and enforcement of the program to any state, federal, or local jurisdiction, or even a conservation organization. No changes.