January 4, 2022
Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post authored by Anna Johnson, Policy Manager at the Center for Rural Affairs
Despite the clear value the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) offers in supporting farmers and ranchers in enhancing conservation of natural resources on their operations, funding has been reduced significantly in the last two farm bills.
“Mapping the Money: An Analysis of Spending Under the Conservation Stewardship Program,” a new report from the Center for Rural Affairs traces the path of the funding, from Congress to on-the-ground conservation.
The long-term viability of farms and ranches depends on the sustained health of soil and water resources. However, most conservation practices require a front-end investment from farmers and ranchers, which can serve as a barrier for implementation. CSP offers unique benefits to farmers interested in increasing conservation on their land.
Created as part of the 2008 farm bill, CSP is designed to serve those farmers and ranchers who demonstrate they are currently invested in conservation. Through five-year contracts, CSP ensures conservation is increased across their entire operations—preventing cases in which good conservation happens on some acres while others are neglected.
The 2014 farm bill decreased the number of acres that USDA could enroll in CSP, and the 2018 farm bill changed the funding structure of the program from acres-based to dollars-based, both of which coincided with reductions in overall funding for the program.
From more than $2 billion under the 2008 farm bill to between $1.1 billion and $1.9 billion under the 2014 farm bill, to less than $1 billion under the 2018 farm bill, CSP funding has been cut in half since its inception. Additionally, every year, USDA receives far more CSP applications than it has the ability to fund. For example, in 2020, only 25% of CSP applications were funded.
The paper also addresses other aspects of CSP implementation, including descriptions of how existing farmer and rancher conservation is taken into account when developing payment under a new contract. The various funding pools are described, as well as some illustrations of the most popular conservation practices and enhancements in Iowa and Nebraska in recent years.
To read or download a copy of “Mapping the Money: An Analysis of Spending Under the Conservation Stewardship Program,” visit cfra.org/publications.