Easement Programs for Cotton Producers

The NCC has made available a fact sheet for cotton producers on Easement Programs.

Published: June 15, 2010
Updated: June 15, 2010


USDA offers several easement programs including the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP),Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRLPP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP), and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). Easement programs allow landowners to sell USDA a conservation easement that provides USDA the authority to restore, protect and enhance the land functions, in exchange for technical or financial assistance. Some of the easement programs are geared toward full farm or full tract eligibility (FRPP); others can be used more surgically within a farm operation to protect a particular resource (WRP, GRP and HFRP). 

How it works:

The basic purpose and structure of all agricultural conservation easements are the same. However, each easement is tailored to the specific farm being protected. Exact language in the easement may reflect future expansion plans of the landowners, including the needs of their heirs, however a cotton producer is best advised to plan for those needs. The value of a conservation easement usually is determined through a professional appraisal. The appraiser assesses the difference between the fair market value of the property, often using comparable sales, and its restricted value under the easement. The easements generally restrict non-farm development and subdivisions. Some farm-related housing may be allowed. Generally, there are few restrictions on improvements and construction related to the farming operation; however a producer is well advised to provide for such activities in the easement.  The easements are permanent or long-term in nature and become part of the land deed and are recorded in the local land records.


An individual or entity that has an average adjusted gross income exceeding $2.5 million for the three tax years immediately preceding the application year is not eligible to receive program benefits or payments. However, an exemption is provided in cases where 75 percent of the adjusted gross income is derived from farming, ranching, or forestry operations.




Improving the odds

Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP)

Provides protections for producers to restore and enhance forest ecosystems. Landowners enrolled in the HFRP who agree, for a specified period, to restore or improve their land for threatened or endangered species habitat will receive in exchange, future regulatory restrictions on the use of that land protected under the Endangered Species Act.

1) 10-year cost-share agreement - receives up to 50 percent of the average cost of the approved conservation practices

 2) 30-year easement - receives up to 75 percent of the easement value of the enrolled land plus 75 percent of the average cost of the approved conservation practices

 3) Easement of not more than 99-years-recieves up to 100 percent of the easement value of the enrolled land plus 100 percent of the average cost of the approved conservation practices

Check your local NRCS office to see if you have land that would be of benefit to threatened or endangered species such as the red cockaded woodpecker. These species are expected to benefit as a result of improved pine forest habitat conditions, implementation of forestry best management practices, and improved water quality through better management of riparian areas. NRCS will work with participants to develop a forest management plan.

Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)

Provides an avenue for cotton producers to remove marginal cropland from production in the interest of wetlands conservation. Technical and financial support is provided to help landowners with wetlands restoration efforts.

1) Permanent Easement- receives 100 percent of the easement value and up to 100 percent of the restoration costs

2) 30-Year Easement - receives up to 75 percent of the easement value and up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.

 3) Restoration Cost-Share Agreement-  restore or enhance the wetland functions and values without placing an easement on the enrolled acres and receive up to 75 percent of the restoration costs

Cotton producers in watersheds that are a priority for water quality or quantity objectives will often gain in the application process.  In addition, producers in important flyways form migratory waterfowl will do well in the application.

Emergency Wetlands Protection Program (EWPP)

Restore, protect, maintain, and enhance the functions of a floodplain; conserve natural values; reduce long-term federal disaster assistance; and safeguard lives and property from floods, drought, and erosion.

Permanent Easement - landowner sells floodplain lands that have been impaired within the last 12 months or that have a history of repeated flooding, giving USDA NRCS full authority to restore and enhance the floodplain’s functions and values, for the lowest of the three values established for WRP as an easement payment: a value based on a market analysis, a geographic rate established by the NRCS State Conservationist, or the landowner offer.

Applications that have been in row crops in at least three of the last five years and verified by NRCS will be given the highest priority.

Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP)

Promotes permanent easements that allows cotton producers to keep their land in agriculture by providing matching funds to a cooperating entity (State, Tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations) with existing farm and ranch land protection programs to purchase conservation easements. Participants agree to not convert their land to non-agricultural uses and develop a conservation plan for any highly erodible land.

Permanent Easement - Landowners receive up to 50 percent of the appraised fair market value of the easement. The cooperating entity may include a charitable donation by the landowner of up to 25 percent of the appraised fair market value of the conservation easement. To qualify, the land offered must:

(1) contain prime, unique, or other productive soil or historical or archaeological resources;

be included in a pending offer from a cooperating entity’s farmland protection program; (2) be privately owned; (3) be covered by a conservation plan for any highly erodible land; (4)  be large enough to sustain agricultural production; (5) be accessible to markets for what the land produces; (6) be surrounded by parcels of land that can support long-term agricultural production; (7) be owned by an individual or entity that does not exceed the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limitation.

To participate, a landowner submits an application to an entity that has an existing farm or ranch land protection program. The NRCS State Conservationist, with advice from the State Technical Committee, awards funds to qualified entities to purchase perpetual conservation easements.


To find land trusts in your state, visit http://www.ltanet.org/landtrustdirectory/

Grassland Reserve Program (GRP)

GRP’s aim is to enhance plant and animal biodiversity in grasslands facing conversion to cropping, urban development, and other threats. Cotton producers can apply for GRP to voluntarily limit future development and cropping uses of the land while retaining the right to conduct common grazing practices and operations related to the production of forage and seeding.

1) Rental Contract - Participants may choose a 10-year, 15-year, or 20-year contract. Annual payments up to 75 percent of the grazing value, not exceeding $50,000 per year per person or legal entity.

2) Permanent Easement - Landowner receives fair market value, less the grazing value of the land encumbered by the easement, paid in lump sum or in annual payments for up to 10 years. Administrative costs associated with easement recording are included.

3) Restoration Agreement - Landowners with certain easements or rental contracts may be eligible for cost-share assistance up to 50 percent of the cost to re-establish grassland functions and values where the land has been degraded or converted to other uses. Participants may contribute to the application of a cost-share practice through in-kind contributions. The combined total cost-share provided by all sources may not exceed 100 percent of the total actual cost of restoration. Payments will not exceed $50,000 per year per person or legal entity.

A grazing management plan is required for participants. Eligible land includes privately owned or Tribal grasslands; land that contains forbs (including improved rangeland and pastureland or shrubland) for which grazing is the predominant use; or land that is located in an area that historically has been dominated by grassland, forbs, or shrubland that has the potential to serve as wildlife habitat of significant ecological value.


This program is offered in every state. It is oversubscribed in traditional grassland states and undersubscribed in other areas.


Natives are given a higher ranking than introduced grasses in most states.