August 24, 2012
This post includes a first glance look at enrollment data for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for the four enrollment years during the 2008 Farm Bill cycle (2009-2012).
This year’s drought is an urgent reminder of the importance of working lands resource conservation. Increasing farm system resiliency through improved soil quality and careful management of water resources is important in all years, but bad years put the matter in stark relief. The Conservation Stewardship Program provides comprehensive conservation assistance to whole farms and working lands: it offers farmers the opportunity to augment the foundation of their good current conservation efforts by earning payments for actively managing and maintaining them, expanding them, and adding new conservation activities—even while they work their lands for production. CSP is for working farms, built on the belief that we must enhance natural resource and environmental protection at the same time we produce profitable food, fiber and energy.
A five-year CSP contract will pay annual financial rewards, contributing to the economic bottom line of those farms that achieve the environmental goal of resolving priority resource problems, which may include improving soil, water and air quality; providing increased biodiversity and wildlife and pollinator habitat; sequestering carbon in the soil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change; and conserving water use and energy use. Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forestland and agricultural land under tribal jurisdiction.
NSAC’s Farmer’s Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program is a good source of information on program details and the application process. The Guide also contains a summary of enrollment and conservation data from the 2009 and 2010 enrollment years.
2008 Farm Bill Cycle Acreage and Dollar Totals
The program existed in a different and more truncated form during the 2002 Farm Bill cycle when it was known as the Conservation Security Program. Since the 2008 Farm Bill, however, the program became a full blown, nationally available working lands conservation program. There have now been four annual enrollments (2009-2012) for the stewardship program, and while 2012 sign-up data from USDA/NRCS is still a preliminary estimate, the figures are reasonably close tofinal. So, therefore, for the first time, we are able to sum all the years from the current farm bill cycle with a fair degree of accuracy.
All the CSP data below is from information made available to us by NRCS. The data set for agricultural land per state is from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
CSP is now the largest federal conservation program as measured by acres, having reached just shy of 50 million acres nationwide. In terms of absolute total number of acres, the top states are shown in the table below, and all 50 states are available in this linked table. Assessed in this way, the top states are skewed toward states with large ranching sectors.
|Conservation Stewardship Program – Top 10 States by Acres|
Acreage as Percent of Ag Land in the State
A different way of looking at acreage enrollment in CSP to date is to ask not how many total acres are enrolled, but how many total acres are enrolled as a percent of all agricultural land in a given state. For a very different look at the top ten states from this vantage point, the table below shows the top ten states as a percentage of total agricultural land, and again, we are linking the full 50 state table.
|Conservation Stewardship Program – Top 12 States by Acres as % of Total Ag Land|
|2012||2011||2010||2009||TOTAL||% of total ag acres|
Yet another way of assessing how various states are doing is by looking at the dollars that have been obligated to CSP contracts to date by state. Once again, the top ten states are provided in the table below and we are also linking the full 50 state table. Unlike the acreage numbers above, the dollar obligation numbers are more of an estimate, though fairly close estimates. Sometime in the next few weeks we will update the dollar obligations with more precise numbers once they become available.
|Estimated Conservation Stewardship|
|Obligations ($) by State 2009-12|
|STATE||Total 5-Year Contract|
|Obligations ($ million)|
Obviously while acreage and dollar numbers are interesting, far more important are the conservation and environmental outcomes being generated by the program. While we have accumulated many wonderful anecdotal farmer stories and have received various sets of data from USDA, we are still awaiting more information and sifting through what has been made available by the agency to date. We hope to provide more information in the coming months about the conservation benefits of the program, including updates of the information from the first two years already provided in our Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program.
New Farm Bill
Disappointingly, both the Senate-passed 2012 Farm Bill and the House Agriculture Committee-passed 2012 Farm Bill make substantial cuts to CSP. The Senate bill would cut the program by $1,987 million (or 10.7 percent) over the next decade, while the House bill would take an even larger slice at $3,095 million (or 16.7 percent). In addition, the House-passed farm disaster aid bill would cut the program by an additional $289 million.
As we head into the final months of this session of Congress, NSAC will continue to advocate against the larger cuts to the program in the House bill and will continue to highlight the folly of using working lands conservation assistance as an offset for disaster aid. Conservation is what makes farms more resilient to the impacts of drought. Cutting conservation to pay for drought aid would only serve to ensure even higher emergency and repair costs in future years.