CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The 2014 farm bill streamlines key conservation programs while investing about $18.7 billion in conservation programs offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service over the next five years.

The bill will provide about $3.4 billion for fiscal year 2014 for NRCS-administered programs.

“The new farm bill continues to offer farmers and forest landowners with the tools they need to address resource concerns while helping the environment,” said Illinois State Conservationist Ivan Dozier. “NRCS is moving swiftly to get the consolidated and expanded programs implemented.”

Current contracts enrolled in farm bill programs are not affected and will be rolled into new provisions.

Both NRCS’ key programs, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, are back in the new farm bill.

“These two programs work for Illinois farmers. They get conservation on the ground,” Dozier said. “Last year, EQIP and CSP together brought in about $16.3 million in financial assistance on nearly 280,000 acres here in Illinois. That’s why they remain in the new conservation title.”

Dozier noted some additional “things to know” about the bill:

* EQIP — Still the best option to fix soil or water-related problems on the farm. Get technical assistance and guidance on hundreds of practices, conservation planning, or payments to help cover costs to build and install them. Plus, now it includes wildlife.

* CSP — Your best bet if you’ve already installed conservation practices and you’re interested in doing even more. CSP rewards what you’ve already done and gives you a chance to try something new, or maybe do something you’ve always thought about doing.

* WHIP — The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program is gone, but not forgotten. NRCS has several practices that directly impact habitat for game, songbirds, food plots, wet areas, forestry management, and even pollinators. These are all rolled into EQIP now. New rules require that 5 percent or more of EQIP dollars will go toward habitat issues, which is good for the whole state.

* Easements — Just got easier. Easements now are under one roof called Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Both ag land and wetland easements are covered. The old Wetland Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program and Farm and Ranchland Protection Program are included. Clumping these together will offer a quicker, simple process for this work. Remember, easements are the best way to ensure productive farmland stays farmland and that we protect sensitive land and habitat long-term.

* Partners — With the new bill, programs and projects made possible with help from conservation partners are more important than ever. NRCS’ regional conservation efforts have a home in a new program — the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Critical conservation areas for this new program will be designated by Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. NRCS will also select project areas at the state and national level.