January 13, 2015
January 13, 2015, Washington, D.C. – The nation’s largest federal conservation program that helps working farmers manage their land sustainably – the Conservation Stewardship Program – is in major need of improvements, says the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, reflecting the views of farmer constituents of their member organizations.
Problems with the program are making it hard for farmers using advanced conservation systems to access the program and receive support for the highest-impact environmental practices on their farms. At the same time, it is difficult for beginning farmers and small-acreage growers to utilize the program.
“CSP is unique because it takes a forward-thinking, whole-farm approach to conservation by investing in both ongoing maintenance of existing conservation as well as new, advanced conservation,” said NSAC Policy Specialist Sophia Kruszewski. “But if changes aren’t made, we risk losing some of the most innovative, conservation-minded farmers from the program.”
Fortunately, there is an opportunity right now for farmers and the general public to weigh in with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service on improving the program so that it can have an even bigger positive impact on our nation’s land and water, reach all types of farmers, and ensure taxpayer dollars are invested wisely in America’s agricultural legacy.
What’s going on?
CSP has been in operation for many years, but with the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, NRCS was directed to make some changes to the program. NRCS issued these new rules in late 2014, and they are open for public comment through January 20, 2015.
At issue: some of the most important conservation activities a farmer can undertake on her farm are long-term, ongoing efforts across the entire farm, such as planting continuous cover, transitioning to organic production, or switching from a chemical-focused to a sustainable pest management approach. CSP is intended to support farmers who undertake these kinds of practices by providing 5-year contracts with financial support – but NRCS isn’t doing this. Instead, they’re skewing the program toward first-time conservation, putting those farmers that continue to actively manage and continuously improve the good things they are already doing at a serious disadvantage.
This has the unintended effect of penalizing some of our nation’s best conservation-oriented farmers by keeping them out of the program or providing them very low levels of support, sending the unmistakable message that a conservation ethic should wait for government sanction.
Further, NRCS is not doing enough to ensure that CSP is accessible to beginning farmers and small acreage farmers, and they have yet to close loopholes that allow some farmers to exceed the farm bill’s per farm payment limits and thus reduce available funding to reach and enroll more farmers.
Why does it matter?
CSP directly benefits tens of thousands of farmers and by the end of this year will be in place on close to 70 million of working farmland and ranchland. It matters, then, that as we rewarding practices that improve and sustain our shared natural resources, we maximize environmental benefits and include all types of farms and farmers.
What can farmers and the public do to help?
Anyone can and should submit a comment to NRCS before January 20! It takes only seconds to sign on to NSAC’s joint letter and customize your own comment here:
The above link goes to NSAC’s CSP Action Center, which includes a sign-on letter, comment guidance, and more detailed information about CSP and key issues at stake.
By providing comprehensive conservation assistance to whole farms, CSP offers farmers the opportunity to earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, rotational grazing, ecologically-based pest management, diversified, resource-conserving crop rotations, conservation tillage, and the transition to organic farming – even while they work their lands for production.
Fast CSP facts:
NSAC is an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to support the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities.