The NRCS, otherwise known as the Natural Resources Conversation Service, is an organization through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This group works to protect agricultural land and improve conservation practices. There are two branches of the NRCS: AECP, the Agricultural Easement Conservation Program, and HFRP, Healthy Forests Reserve Program.
Let’s talk about the HFRP first. This branch helps protect and preserve forestland on private properties. The goal of the HFRP is to reduce the number of endangered and threaten species, as well as increase plant and animal biodiversity throughout forestlands. A new component of the HFRP includes opening this program to land owned by Indian tribes.
The other branch is the AECP. The goal of this conservation branch is to protect land currently being used in agriculture and preventing it from being sold for non-ag purposes. Many states in the eastern part of the country, such as New York and Pennsylvania, have farmland preservation programs at the county level. The AECP also works to preserve wetlands, which goes to improve
In Illinois, we have the Farmland Protection Program, located in Kane County. A collar county of Chicago, many do not imagine a county with much farmland. However, since it is so close to the city, it is more imperative to ensure the farm acreage stays in agriculture. Being a native Kane county resident, I can say we have a unique layout for our county. We are pretty well split between developed and undeveloped land.
The Farmland Protection Program was established in Kane County in 2001. Since then, there have been over 5,500 acres preserved. How does this program work? Essentially, the county purchases the developing rights of that land. The farmer is still in charge of caring for the land, and can still use the land to grow crops. The only difference is the land must stay in agricultural use, since the county purchased the developing rights. No neighborhoods or shopping centers can be built on protected acres. The land also must continue to be used in agriculture; in other words, the farmers must still utilize the land as part of their operation.
Why are programs like AECP and HFRP important? Because as many of us have heard, the world population will grow to over 9 billion people by the year 2050. With a growing population, we have to have resources to continue to grow food, more than we ever have in the past. With programs through the National Resources Conservation Service, our county is better prepared to help feed the growing world.
Illinois State University