As part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, and Farm and Ranch land Program were combined to create the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). On May 1, 2014, the USDA announced it is now accepting applications for ACEP. Applications must be submitted by the individual state deadline or June 6, 2014, whichever is earlier. (Contact your local NRCS to determine the state deadline.)
ACEP has two components: (1) wetlands easement and (2) agricultural land easement component. The wetlands easement component, for the most part, is a mirror of the Wetlands Reserve Program. The agricultural land easement component is intended to retain the purposes and functions of the Grassland Reserve Program and Farm and Ranch land Program.
For agricultural land easements, NRCS is providing funds to eligible entities to buy easements to protect working farms and ranches and conserve and protect grassland (which includes, rangeland, pastureland, and shrub land). NRCS may contribute up to 50% for the fair market value for purchase of the easement. If the NRCS determines the grasslands are of special environmental significant, NRCS may contribute up to 75% of the fair market value. NRCS has announced that it will give priority to proposals which present conversion of productive working land to non-agricultural uses and maximizes the protection of land devoted to growing the nation’s food supply. Additionally, the 2014 Farm Bill authorizes prioritization of applications which include grassland acres which will expire from the CRP within one year.
For wetlands easements, the USDA is providing funding to landowners to purchase long-term or permanents easements to restore, protect, and enhance wetland values and functions on eligible wetland which has been in agricultural production. NRCS will prioritize applications based upon the wetland easement’s potential for protecting and enhancing the habitat for migratory birds, fish, and other wildlife. Like agricultural easements, the 2014 Farm Bill authorizes prioritization of applications that include valuable wetland acres that will expire from CRP within one year and are likely to return to production.