USDA has updated a rule for its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) as directed by the 2018 farm bill and public comments. ACEP enables agricultural producers and private landowners to protect farmlands, grasslands and wetlands with conservation easements.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) received more than 570 comments. The final rule includes some minor changes including revised definitions for beginning farmer or rancher, eligible land, farm or ranch succession plan, future viability and maintenance to provide additional clarity, especially around succession planning.

Other changes involved clarifying the nonfederal match requirements. New types of costs were added that may be used to satisfy the nonfederal match requirements.

In addition, one of the regulatory deed requirements was modified to clarify the types of changes to the easement deed or easement area that must be approved in advance by NRCS.

ACEP offers financial and technical assistance to help protect productive farm and ranch lands from conversion to other uses, and to restore and protect the nation’s critical wetlands. It uses innovative conservation systems to support the restoration of wetland ecosystems and to protect working lands, helping to sequester carbon, trap sediment and filter pollutants for clean water.

NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round, but applications are ranked and funded during enrollment periods that are set locally. For more information, contact your local NRCS field office.