Top USDA staff visit with farmers about their support and their suggested changes for the Conservation Security Program
by Traci Bruckner, email@example.com
Farmers from Nebraska, Iowa, and Maryland met with USDA’s Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Arlen Lancaster and other NRCS staff on November 27, 2006 to discuss the Conservation Security Program (CSP).
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss farmers’ concerns with CSP implementation and ways the program could be strengthened. But, just as importantly, it was a chance for farmers to share their experiences, both positive and negative, with the program and their support for CSP.
Our report, The Conservation Security Program: An Assessment of Farmers’ Experience with Program Implementation released in fall 2006 provided the basis for the visit. Through that report we examined the issues impacting the effectiveness of CSP by looking at the program through the perspective of farmers and ranchers.
A major concern of the visiting group was the nature of declining enhancement payments over the life of their contracts. Dave Welsch, a farmer from Milford, Nebraska, told NRCS that declining enhancement payments need to be eliminated because they disadvantage farmers who have always practiced conservation. Under this regulatory provision the best are not being compensated, so the CSP motto of “Reward the Best and Motivate the Rest” is not holding true.
The farmers also lobbied members of Congress on Capitol Hill on the need for increased funding for CSP. They want to see the program fully funded, citing problems with the current watershed rotation. It is unfair when a farmer on one side of the road receives CSP payments and the neighbor across the road doesn’t because he or she isn’t in the chosen watershed.
They believe it puts the recipient of the CSP payments at an unfair advantage because they have extra funds to buy or rent more land. The other farmer who cannot enroll in CSP is at a disadvantage because she or he can’t compete.
CSP’s intent was not to provide a competitive advantage to one farmer over another, and thus it is critical that the Conservation Security Program be fully funded. Congress, in the 2002 farm bill, intended for CSP to be a program for farmers and ranchers demonstrating good stewardship across the nation. But budget cuts have drastically restricted the program to select watersheds, impeding the ability of many conservation-minded farmers and ranchers to participate.
Congress must make CSP funding a priority in the 2007 farm bill and voice their clear conviction that they will remain committed to CSP in the long run. For a full copy of the report see: http://www.cfra.org/pdf/CSP_Report_farmerperspective.pdf.
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Center for Rural Affairs
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