USDA Revises Conservation Provisions for Highly Erodible Lands and Wetlands

Brian German Agri-Business, USDA-NRCS

Conservation Provisions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has published the final rule updating certain conservation provisions. The final rule that was published recently provides updates on how determinations are made to classify land as highly erodible or wetland. The finalization of the rule incorporates public comments made following an interim rule that was published in December 2018.

“Feedback is a very important resource, and we appreciate all of those who help us improve how determinations are made,” NRCS Acting Chief Kevin Norton said in a press release. “Highly erodible land and wetland determinations are the gateway to USDA programs, and we strive to provide the highest quality technical assistance to inform decision-making by farmers and ranchers.”

The final rule was published in the Federal Register on August 28 and confirms many of the changes that were included in the interim final rule.  The changes include clarifying consideration of the best-drained condition for wetland hydrology and how wetland hydrology is identified on farmland. The final rule also a provision for USDA to make a reasonable effort to perform an on-site investigation prior to making any wetland violation determination.

USDA received a significant amount of feedback on the updates to conservation provisions during the comment period. American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) had advocated for more clarification and transparency in the enforcement of the conservation provisions. AFBF asserts that the final rule does not go far enough to ensure that farmers are treated fairly in relation to conservation compliance.

“Farmers deserve a fair process and clarity, including an understanding of the exemptions authorized by Congress,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “They deserve to be protected from repeated, unjustified, costly decisions by NRCS. Although we appreciate recent actions by USDA to rectify historic wrongs, this was a missed opportunity to ensure fairness going forward. We will continue to examine this rule and our options to address its shortcomings.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West