The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act (“Act”) is federal legislation enacted by Congress on April 27, 1935. The purpose of the Act is to evade the dual threats of soil erosion and agricultural overproduction. The Act was passed in response to the Supreme Court’s declaration that the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was unconstitutional[i]. The Act was also designed to support farm income by making soil-conservation and soil-building payments to participating farmers. Accordingly, the Act allows the government to pay farmers so that they can reduce production in order to conserve soil, prevent erosion, and accomplish other minor goals[ii]. The Act also attempts to give adequate protection to sharecroppers and tenant farmers.
The wastage of soil and moisture resources on farm, grazing, and forest lands of the nation resulting from soil erosion is considered to be a menace to national welfare. Hence, the Act directs the Secretary of Agriculture to coordinate and monitor all activities with relation to soil erosion. The following duties have been entrusted to the Secretary of Agriculture (“Secretary”) in order to effectuate the Act[iii]:
- To conduct surveys, investigations and research relating to the character of soil erosion and the preventive measures needed;
- To carry out preventive measures, including but not limited to engineering operations, methods of cultivation, the growing of vegetation, and changes in use of land;
- To cooperate or enter into agreements with, or to furnish financial or other aid to, any agency, governmental or otherwise, or any person.
An Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) committee system is established by the Act in order to serve as a liaison between the Secretary and individual producers. The Act specifically requires the Secretary to ensure information concerning changes in federal laws are communicated. Additionally, agricultural programs are also communicated in a timely manner to local committees in areas that contain agricultural producers who might be affected by such changes[iv]. The Act also helps farmers by making provisions to pay for the shifting to soil building crops like legumes and grasses from crops in excess supply (soil depleting crops). The Act continues to serve as the enabling authority for a number of activities and programs carried out by the Natural Resources Conservation Service[v].
For the purpose of carrying out this Act, funds are transferred to agencies of the federal or state governments, or to local public agencies, as the Secretary may request these agencies to cooperate or assist in carrying out this Act[vi]. Further, the Secretary may prescribe that all or part of such estimated expenses of any such committee or association may be deducted pro rata from the payments or grants made to the members. In addition, the Secretary may make such payments in advance of determination of performance[vii].
The Act provides for the expansion of domestic and foreign markets or for seeking new or additional markets for agricultural commodities or products. The Secretary is authorized to make advances to producers for the purpose of assisting them to insure their crops with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation[viii]. Advances will only be made to producers who are participating or who agree to participate in a crop insurance program. However, any portion of such funds not used for advances to producers under such program will be returned to the Secretary by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation.
[i] Butler v. United States, 129 S. Ct. 171 (U.S. 2008).
[ii] 16 USCS § 590a.
[iv] Olenhouse v. Commodity Credit Corp., 42 F.3d 1560 (10th Cir. Kan. 1994).
[v] 16 USCS § 590q-1.
[vi] 16 USCS § 590k.
[viii] 16 USCS § 590l.