A Legacy of Conservation and Success

Enactment of the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, at the mid-point of the Dust Bowl era, launched the U.S. conservation system and created the Soil Conservation Service (SCS). By 1938, thanks to new farming practices such as terracing, contouring and cover crop planting, soil stopped blowing away on 65 percent of the affected land. In the fall of 1939, rains would end the drought.

The possibility of creating a system to conserve U.S. agricultural land was being discussed even before the Dust Bowl devastated America’s agricultural heartland. As winds blew mountains of dust from the Great Plains to Washington, D.C., government officials understood that if U.S. agriculture was to survive, soil conservation needed to be a centerpiece of agricultural policy and practice.

In 1937, the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Law authorized farmers to organize local soil and water conservation districts. These districts gave farmers a voice in federal programs and are widely acknowledged as a key reason for the success of private lands conservation.

Today, the U.S. conservation system reaches into virtually every rural community with technical and financial assistance that is targeted to local conditions and local needs.  The 2014 Farm Bill strengthened the linkage between conservation compliance and crop insurance. To be eligible to receive many USDA benefits, including loans, disaster assistance, federal crop insurance premium subsidies and conservation assistance, farmers must comply with requirements for highly erodible lands and wetlands.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers voluntary programs to eligible landowners and agricultural producers and provides financial and technical assistance to help manage natural resources in a sustainable manner.

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