Farm Programs:

Conservation Compliance Provisions Could Be Made More Effective

RCED-90-206: Published: Sep 24, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) administration of the conservation compliance, sodbuster, and swampbuster provisions of Title XII of the Food Security Act.

GAO found that: (1) the act protected only those erodible lands and wetlands that were farmed by USDA program participants, thereby leaving substantial areas unprotected; (2) USDA criteria for determining whether lands required conservation plans further limited the amount of protected lands; (3) the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) identified highly erodible cropland and assisted producers in developing conservation plans for reducing erosion on the land, but lacked the staff and funding it needed to implement the conservation plans by the act's 1995 deadline; (4) USDA may not be able to implement the act's swampbuster provisions by the 1995 deadline because SCS did not identify and classify all wetlands and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) frequently changed exemption criteria for wetland conversions and did not always consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on commenced conversion decisions; and (5) ASCS did not adequately monitor participating producers for violations of conservation provisions.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress did not include this provision when reauthorizing the program in the 1990 farm bill.

    Matter: If Congress wishes to increase the protection of erodible lands, it may want to consider requiring that conservation systems applied to sodbusted land, whether or not they are converted from native vegetation, limit erosion to no more than the soil loss tolerance level. Land used for planting a nonagricultural crop during 1981-1985 in a long-term rotation approved by SCS should be excluded.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress changed this provision in the 1990 farm bill.

    Matter: If Congress wishes to increase the amount of erodible land and wetlands protected and the amount of soil erosion and wetlands saved by the act's conservation provisions, it could consider revising the provisions to withhold benefits when highly erodible lands or wetlands are converted for planting, and require the restoration of such converted wetlands or mitigation of damages to converted wetlands before farm program eligibility can be regained.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress did not enact this provision when reauthorizing these provisions as part of the 1990 farm bill.

    Matter: If Congress wishes to increase the amount of erodible land and wetlands protected and the amount of soil erosion and wetlands saved by the act's conservation provisions, it could consider revising the provisions to require the Secretary of Agriculture to use a lower erosion potential or other factors to define land covered by the conservation compliance and sodbuster provisions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA expanded spot-checking to include FmHA and FCIC participants.

    Recommendation: To improve ASCS enforcement of the conservation provisions, the Secretary of Agriculture should require ASCS to develop a procedure to ensure that all USDA farm program participants, including those participating in Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) or Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) programs, are included in the ASCS universe for sampling participants' compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA took action to ensure that all program participants are making the required certification.

    Recommendation: To improve ASCS enforcement of the conservation provisions, the Secretary of Agriculture should require ASCS to develop controls to verify the compliance of all USDA farm program participants who fail to certify their compliance annually with ASCS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA took action to review its decisions for consistency.

    Recommendation: To prevent any further loss of wetlands and to improve program implementation of the swampbuster provisions, the Secretary of Agriculture should monitor the application of the wetlands commenced conversion criteria so the decisions made are consistent.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA revised its policies relating to reporting and tracking soil savings as of January 1, 1991.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, SCS, to build on ongoing efforts and report accomplishments (soil erosion savings) achieved by implementing the conservation compliance and sodbuster provisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA stated that it is already attempting to prioritize funds.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, SCS, to prioritize its limited cost-share funds so that USDA resources are allocated in a manner that achieves the greatest conservation benefit.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA sent all cases to FWS for concurrence.

    Recommendation: To prevent any further loss of wetlands and to improve implementation of the swampbuster provisions, the Secretary of Agriculture should enforce the requirements for the FWS consultations on commenced decisions in order to utilize its expertise in the area.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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