Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns recently announced the release of nearly $2.7 billion in fiscal year 2006 for voluntary conservation programs on working lands.

“Conservation on private lands is an important priority for USDA. We are fulfilling that commitment by responding to the needs of agricultural producers to provide more certainty and predictability in their environmental stewardship decisions before planting season begins,” said Johanns. “The early release of these funds will give producers time to develop effective conservation plans and help them to improve their land.”

The early release of funds ensures farmers and ranchers in the nation's 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Basin have more time to make sound decisions regarding their conservation practices. States will receive their allocations much earlier than in the past. Fiscal year 2006 allocations include nearly $1.3 billion in technical assistance and about $1.4 billion in financial assistance for NRCS voluntary conservation programs and other activities. A total of more than $2.3 billion will be distributed to the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Basin.

With financial and technical assistance from NRCS, farmers, ranchers and other landowners will continue to address resource concerns on agricultural working lands, promote environmental quality, address challenges in water quality and quantity, protect prime farmland and grazing lands and protect valuable wetlands ecosystems and wildlife habitat.

Key voluntary conservation programs and allocations include:

  • Conservation Security Program: $259,000,000. CSP supports ongoing stewardship of private, agricultural working lands and rewards those producers who are meeting the highest standards of conservation and environmental management on their operations. This will fund existing contracts. Funds for CSP signups will be allocated to the states at a later date.

  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program: $994,705,524. EQIP assists farmers and ranchers to improve soil, air and water quality and other related resources on private working lands.

  • Ground and Surface Water Conservation: $70,093,458. GSWC assists farmers and ranchers to conserve our nation's ground and surface water resources. This program helps to improve agricultural water use efficiency and results in a net savings to ground and surface water reserves.

  • Klamath Basin: $11,319,018. These funds will help farmers and ranchers to enhance water quality, reduce water usage by increasing irrigation efficiencies, and improve habitat for affected fish and wildlife in the Klamath Basin.

  • Wetlands Reserve Program: $245,795,302. WRP helps landowners restore, enhance and protect wetlands through permanent easements, 30-year easements and restoration cost-share agreements. The program maximizes wildlife habitat and wetland functions and values.

  • Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program: $73,500,000. FRPP provides matching funds to state and local governments and non-governmental organizations to purchase conservation easements.

    Grassland Reserve Program: $915,259 in technical assistance. GRP is designed to protect and restore grasslands, biodiversity, wildlife habitat and reduce soil erosion while sustaining viable working ranches. These GRP funds are advisory and states, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Basin are being told to use them for budget planning purposes only.

  • Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program: $43,000,000. WHIP offers technical and financial assistance through long-term agreements to create, restore and enhance wildlife habitat for upland wildlife, wetland wildlife, threatened, endangered or at-risk species and fisheries as well as other types of wildlife.

Additional information about conservation programs administered by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is available at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.