Many farmers and ranchers play a critical role in preserving vulnerable wetlands, with impacts that stretch beyond positive environmental benefits, to boosting recreation, hunting and the economy. Provisions in the 2014 farm bill will help farmers preserve some of the nation's most valuable wetlands.

Wetlands are nature's kidneys. They decrease erosion; filter sediments, toxic substances and nutrients from water flowing through them; and help improve downstream water quality and groundwater recharge.

The greatest potential for restoration is on private lands. Privately owned crop, pasture and rangeland accounts for about half of the land mass of the lower 48 states and an Agriculture Department Natural Resource Inventory shows there are more than 25 million acres of wetlands on croplands, pasture land, Conservation Reserve Program acreage and rangeland.

Congress took its first steps to help farmers preserve wetlands when it authorized the Wetlands Reserve Program in the 1990 farm bill. More than 11,000 farmers and other private land owners have enrolled more than 2.3 million acres in WRP, which provides habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife; provides flood protection; and improves water quality and groundwater recharge. The WRP and several other programs (Farmland Protection Program, Grassland Reserve Program and Wildlife Incentive Program) were consolidated into the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program in the 2014 farm bill.

Wetlands also play a critical role in wildlife-related recreation, a major driver of the U.S. economy that represents 1 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. More than 70 million people in the U.S. are "wildlife watchers," accounting for nearly $55 billion in spending annually. Of those, about 13.3 million travel to observe migratory birds, and every year, 2.6 million migratory bird hunters spend $1.6 billion.

Wetlands preservation has big impacts, yet it represents just one small slice of the extensive contribution of agriculture on conservation and environmental protection, hunting, recreation and wildlife observation, and the economy.

Robert Giblin consults, writes and speaks about agriculture and food industry issues and trends.