Stuck in the Swamp: Swampbuster Basics

Brigit Rollins, NALC staff attorney

Brigit Rollins, Staff Attorney


When Congress passed the 1985 Farm Bill, they also put in place the Highly Erodible Lands and Wetlands Conservation program, an ambitious new program with the goal of helping to conserve highly erodible and wetlands in agricultural areas. The idea was straightforward – make the receipt of certain USDA benefits contingent on not converting highly erodible lands or wetlands for agricultural use. However, the administration of this program has proven to be an on-going challenge.

The portion of the program that targets wetlands, known colloquially as “Swampbuster,” has been a particularly challenging program to implement. Under Swampbuster, any participant in certain USDA programs will be ineligible for program benefits if they convert wetlands for agricultural use. Although this sounds simple, Swampbuster contains multiple exemptions, and exceptions which can be difficult to navigate. Not only can Swampbuster and its regulations be difficult to navigate, but Swampbuster cases can take years to resolve, and can require a significant amount of resources to complete.

This webinar will explore the basics of Swampbuster, some of its exemptions, and a handful of recent cases that offer insight into how Swampbuster is implemented.



This webinar was recorded on February 3, 2021. To view a recording of this webinar, click here.


Brigit Rollins, Staff Attorney, National Agricultural Law Center 

Brigit began her life in Sonoma County, in the heart of California’s wine country. Growing up, she was surrounded by small farms, dairies, and wineries, which ultimately led to a passion for agriculture and the environment. She attended Sonoma State University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies, and a minor in studio arts. While at Sonoma State, Brigit studied different types of agricultural methods and how those methods could be used to promote environmental sustainability. After graduating from Sonoma State in 2015, she started as a law student at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. While at Lewis & Clark, she worked as a student clerk for the Western Resources Legal Center, where she worked on cases assisting small ranches, farms, and municipalities. During her time at Lewis & Clark, she also interned with the California Farm Bureau Federation, and worked as a law clerk for the Sacramento-based environmental law firm Somach Simmons & Dunn. While at the California Farm Bureau, Brigit focused on Environmental Species Act issues and water law issues, as well as issues specific to California. While at Somach Simmons & Dunn, Brigit expanded her work on water law and participated in work involving federal Indian law. On campus, Brigit was on the board of Lewis & Clark’s Food & Ag Law Society and served as a student member of the ABA Public Lands Committee.

Brigit began her work at the Center as a research fellow during her second year of law school. As a research fellow, Brigit worked on a wide variety of agricultural law topics ranging from liability issues to the new frontier of lab-grown meat. In 2019, Brigit graduated from Lewis & Clark and joined the Center full-time. At the Center, her primary area of research and scholarship is environmental law as it intersects with agriculture. She maintains an interest in promoting sustainability and environmental health through agriculture and resource use.


Research & Materials:

Stuck in the Swamp? A Look at Prior-Converted Croplands Under Swampbuster

Stuck in the Swamp? Overview of the Minimal Effect Exemption Under Swampbuster