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• Basically, most USDA program benefits can be curtailed or stopped if a farmer is chronically out of sync with conservation compliance plans, including loans, disaster loans and payments, CRP payments, EQIP payments and other farm assistance programs.
THE NATURAL RESOURCES Conservation Service spot checks 5 percent of land in each county to make sure conservation compliance plans are being followed. Tobacco’s history of being tough on soils poses a unique challenge to those plans in controlling erosion.
The 1985 farm bill mandated farmers receiving USDA benefits to treat land considered by USDA to be highly erodible in a sustainable way.
They were to make these conservation compliance plans with local soil conservation officers, stick to the plans or risk losing their eligibility for USDA program benefits then and now.
And tobacco production poses unique challenges to such plans.
“Those plans, as modified through the years, are still in force. If you are out of compliance with the existing plans on any land you farm, then you are at risk of losing eligibility for many USDA program benefits on all land you farm,” said Bob Pearce, tobacco agronomist with the University of Kentucky Extension.
In the last three decades, technology and improved management practices have reduced field erosion across the Southeast. A lot of the highly erodible land, or HEL, was placed into the Conservation Reserve Program, too, and no-till row crop farming has contributed to greater soil conservation.
When farmers now make decisions about cropping, or when they buy or rent new land, they don’t always think to make sure it all jives with existing compliance plans, in some cases plans created more than two decades ago.
“Highly erodible land and wetland compliance never went away, but the calls and requests concerning the issue definitely reduced over the years,” said Kenny Smallwood, Kentucky’s Natural Resources Conservation Service agronomist.
Laws get modified, and in 2008 another farm bill came. As part of that, the fifth edition of the National Food Security Act manual was released to NRCS and Farm Service Agency in 2010, which updated law regarding the 1985 farm bill.
It outlined new structure and protocols to enforce conservation compliance plans, Smallwood said.