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Ohio farmers get a boost for conservation efforts

A man in a ballcap points to his cover crops, a field of green tall grass and plants. A woman is beside him, bending to pick from the field.
Alejandro Figueroa
A Greene County farm planted with cover crops that help replenish nutrients back into the soil and minimize run-off into local watersheds. Cover crops are just one example of what the Conservation Stewardship Program can help farmers implement.

Ohio farmers will have through the first week of April to take advantage of the first round of funding for nature preservation.

The Inflation Reduction Act put an additional $3 billion in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Program – a national initiative that pays farmers to implement conservation practices on their land.

“If farmers are really interested in doing all they can to be more sustainable, to sequester carbon, and to be part of the solution to climate change,” Amalie Lipstreu, policy director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association said. “Why wouldn't we want to help them do that?”

Funding will be divided up annually until 2026 – beginning with a $250 million investment this year.

The boost is especially important, she said, after years of disinvestment in the program. An analysis by the Center for Rural Affairs found in 2021 that its funding had dwindled to half of the amount originally allocated in 2008.

“This funding is critical to just even getting us back to levels that we used to be at,” she said.

 Partnering conservation with crops

More than 70 million acres across the country are enrolled in the conservation program. In 2021, that included more than 56,000 acres from Ohio.

Producers in the program receive payments to address the conservation needs on their land over the course of five years.

Lipstreu said this can span from wildlife habitat protection to wetland protection to managing soil health.

“This is a conservation program specifically designed for working farms and ranches to help them better manage their natural resources, at the same time they're maintaining their goals for agricultural profitability and viability,” Lipstreu said.

 A more climate-resilient Ohio

Beyond the financial incentive, Lipstreu said there’s many benefits to incorporating sustainable farming.

When farmers integrate conservation practices, like planting cover crops, they are able to build up the health of their soil, she said. Cover crops increase soil’s ability to absorb intense rain and store moisture, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

“Whether it's droughts or floods, if you've got well managed soil, you're going to be more resilient,” Lipstreu said.

These practices also require less fertilizer, which has seen soaring prices in the last couple of years. Healthier soil results in fewer input costs for producers, Lipstreu said.

It also helps to mitigate the issue of erosion – which Lipstreu said is one of the biggest conservation issues facing the state.

She said the more soil farms lose, the less productive it is.

“If we're not taking care of soil, we're going to be in trouble down the road on many levels.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.