by Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs, email@example.com
The Conservation Title of the 2007 Farm Bill should focus on rewarding good stewardship of the land by placing a greater emphasis on working lands, communities, and fostering a new generation of conservation-minded farmers and ranchers. Although each of us has a moral obligation to leave the land at least as well as we receive it, the public also has an obligation to share in the cost of protecting the land and water on which all of us – current and future generations – rely for survival.
The 2002 farm bill recognized this obligation and made great strides in this regard. For example, it increased the funding level devoted to conservation programs, developed a whole new approach to conservation programs through creation of the Conservation Security Program and the Partnerships and Cooperation Initiative, and called for a special initiative through conservation programs for beginning farmers and ranchers. We have several proposals for the 2007 Conservation Title.
>> Conservation for Working Lands
To effectively protect the environment, the farm bill must address working lands as well as land retirement. The Conservation Security Program (CSP) established by the 2002 farm bill is the basis on which to build. It has several key strengths.
>> It rewards farmers who practice environmental stewardship year in and year out. That is far better than only paying the worst actors to change, which places the nation’s best environmental stewards at a competitive disadvantage in competing for land. Its ultimate outcome is to shift landownership toward those who care little about stewardship and practice it only when paid.
>> CSP takes the far better approach of both rewarding those who have always practiced stewardship as well as those making improvements. That will yield more far reaching and lasting environmental gains.
>> CSP is also good for farmers. If it’s implemented correctly, it will base payments on how intensively the operator manages the land to protect the environment. Payments based on what farm and ranch operators do are far more likely to remain in their pockets than payments based on how much land they operate. The latter are inevitably bid into higher cash rents and land prices and thereby transferred to the landowner. Payments based on the operator’s management are far more likely to remain with the operator.
The CSP has faced enormous implementation and funding challenges, which created an uncertain and shaky program start. Therefore, we propose that the new farm bill must again fully fund the program with nationwide status, making it available to all eligible farmers for 2007 and beyond. It must also address resource conserving crop rotations – define them and indicate that the Secretary shall include this as an enhancement practice. We are completing an analysis of the CSP which will include more recommendations for improvements.
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Center for Rural Affairs
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