Soil Conservation

RCED-95-159R: Published: Apr 14, 1995. Publicly Released: Apr 14, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Conservation Compliance Program, focusing on: (1) USDA flexibility in implementing program requirements in different regions of the country; (2) how the program has affected farming practices and costs; and (3) program benefits and drawbacks. GAO noted that: (1) USDA has been flexible in setting program requirements and applying them on a regional basis; (2) USDA has relaxed the soil erosion standard for farmers who undergo economic hardship and developed alternative conservation practices that farmers can use to comply with the new erosion standard; (3) about three-quarters of farmers' soil conservation plans specify practices that leave residue from prior year crops; (4) farmers have reduced tillage as the primary erosion control technique; (5) there is no comprehensive data available on the net effect of the conservation compliance provisions on farmers' costs; and (6) although the Conservation Compliance Program has multiple benefits including reducing soil erosion and improving water quality, the program does not prevent fertilizers and pesticides from leaching into groundwater supplies.

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