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Digging into the Nation’s Leading Conservation Program – Part V

June 12, 2015

Yesterday we examined Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) participation trends for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as well as organic and transitioning-to-organic farmers across the country. We also looked at the distribution of contracts by funding amount, in order to determine how well CSP is serving farms and ranches of a variety of scales.

In this final post of our CSP series, we examine how the ongoing fiscal year (FY) 2016 appropriations process might impact the program and the producers who utilize it. As we have previously reported in Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series, CSP rewards farmers, ranchers, and foresters for how they grow what they grow. There are currently more than 62 million acres enrolled in enhanced conservation through CSP.

United States Capitol building in Washton, DC

Photo credit: USDA

Program History

The precursor to CSP, the Conservation Security Program, was first authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill. This program evolved into the Conservation Stewardship Program in the 2008 Farm Bill, and was reauthorized in the most recent 2014 Farm Bill. In addition to making several important policy changes, the 2014 Farm Bill reduced annual CSP enrollment from 12.8 million acres to 10 million acres. As a result, 2.8 million fewer acres are enrolled in the program each year until the next farm bill.

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have jurisdiction over the farm bill conservation programs. It took nearly three years for the Agriculture Committees to fully debate and pass the 2014 Farm Bill. While NSAC strongly opposed the decision to cut 2.8 million acres per year from CSP, we note that the Agriculture Committees carefully negotiated and crafted the 2014 Farm Bill with the expectation that remaining funds would continue until the next farm bill re-authorization in 2018.

Unfortunately for farmers, ranchers, and foresters as well as our water, soil, and other natural resources, the Agriculture Committees were wrong. In FY 2015, the first year after the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, congressional appropriators used a back-door budget process known as “Changes in Mandatory Program Spending” (CHIMPS) to cut $653 million from the Farm Bill Conservation Title. In doing so, they reduced the annual CSP enrollment again, this time from 10 million acres to 7 million acres.

CSP Funding in 2016

The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees are currently drafting their respective agriculture appropriations bills for FY 2016, and we expect a similar attack on farm bill conservation program funding once again. The Subcommittees are likely to release their draft bills in the next two weeks. Another 30 percent cut to the annual CSP enrollment would mean that, on top of the normal demand-to-supply ratio of 2-to-1, an additional 2,500 qualified farmers, ranchers, and foresters would be rejected from CSP in FY 2016.

Last month, more than 130 organizations asked congressional appropriators to oppose any attempt to cut funding for CSP as well as the other conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The letter points out that decisions relating to the farm bill conservation programs should be left to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, which have jurisdiction over “mandatory” farm bill funding.

NSAC will continue to watch the appropriations process closely, and will work with our members and partners as well as allies on the Hill to ensure that the FY 2016 agriculture appropriations bill does not once again reduce CSP enrollment from the congressionally mandated level in 2016.

To help us defend conservation funding, visit our take action page!

Categories: Budget and Appropriations, Conservation, Energy & Environment

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