NSAC's Blog


October 9, 2020

Contact: Eric Deeble, Policy Specialist 
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

CSP Rule Fails Farmers and Environment

Trump Administration’s First Farm Bill Conservation Final Rule Flouts the Law

Washington, DC, October 9th, 2020  – The Trump Administration published its first 2018 Farm Bill conservation title program final rule in today’s Federal Register.  The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) rule, which directly contradicts decisions made by Congress in key places, will harm farmers and set back their conservation efforts.  Among its worst features are provisions:

  • Penalizing CSP farmers who cannot renew their contracts due to shortage of available federal funds by denying them a chance to try to get back into the program for two full years.
  • Reversing Congress’ decision to streamline CSP ranking and payments to provide equal weight to farmers’ active management of ongoing and new conservation activities on their farms.
  • Illegally doubling payment limits in order to funnel money to some of the largest farms in the country, reducing payments to the rest of agriculture by nearly 10 percent according to USDA’s own estimates.
  • Denying payments to farmers who meet the highest USDA conservation standards and have implemented all the relevant CSP-available conservation activities on one or more of their land uses, a denial not authorized by Congress.
  • Failing to conform to the statute’s language on how to allocate CSP dollars to the States and doing so in a manner that could jeopardize funding for Western states.
  • Suggesting in its comments on the rule that USDA may in the future retract the current minimum payment rate for farmers with small acreages, many of whom produce very high value fruits and vegetables.
  • Failing to include separate ranking pools for beginning farmers and farmers of color in the rule and hinting that its current practice in that regard may be about to change.

“We are saddened to see the Administration continue its efforts to destroy the essence and unique character of the Conservation Stewardship Program,” said Eric Deeble, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “In placing their ideology over the Congressional mandates made in the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA has issued a final rule that is a slap in the face to the farmers committed to top-notch stewardship of our incredible natural resources and productive capacity.”

CSP provides comprehensive conservation assistance on a whole farm basis to farmers through payments for actively managing and maintaining current conservation efforts, expanding and improving on them, and adding new conservation activities. CSP provides financial assistance for conservation activities that improve soil health, sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, slow erosion, improve water and air quality, support wildlife and pollinator habitat, and conserve water and energy.

“We are thankful the Administration accepted our recommendation to include an emphasis on soil health – as required by the Farm Bill – in the final rule,” said Deeble. “However, that is small comfort given how the rule fails to conform to the statute in so many ways. It is evident that USDA leadership wants a CSP that favors the biggest farms over mid-sized farms and new and beginning farmers and is intent on keeping farmers and ranchers using advanced conservation systems out of the program.”   

NSAC has long supported the farm bill’s two major working lands conservation programs – CSP and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The two programs serve different purposes but can be complementary. CSP provides long-term, ongoing support for farmers, ranchers, and private forest land operators for the conservation activities, provided they have already solved a few major resource concerns, are committed to continual improvement, and are willing to do so on a whole farm basis. EQIP provides one-time cost-share assistance to help producers adopt basic conservation practices to solve particular problem areas on particular fields. In many instances, farmers start their conservation trajectory using EQIP but then graduate to CSP.

“This Administration seems determined to gut CSP to make it as much like EQIP as they can,” noted Deeble, “and in so doing missed an important opportunity to make CSP the program into which EQIP participants can grow.

“While this is the final rule for now, we will not give up in our pursuit of program rules and priorities that match the statute and the needs of farmers and the environment,” concluded Deeble. “We will continue to strive for a future in which CSP plays a primary role in paying farmers to help solve the climate crisis while protecting soil and water and advancing biodiversity.”


About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: https://sustainableagriculture.net/

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, General Interest, Press Releases

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