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USDA urged to hold CSP

Farm and conservation groups are urging U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make critical improvements to the USDA Conservation Stewardship Program and initiate the 2010 sign-up as soon as possible.  

Changes to the 2008 Farm Bill allow eligible farmers and ranchers throughout the country to sign up for CSP on a continuous basis throughout the year. However, because important program changes to CSP haven’t yet been announced by USDA, farmers don’t know what exactly they are signing up for in 2010. Also, USDA is holding up the announcement of the 2010 CSP sign-up until it issues a final rule for the program, forcing farmers to sign up during one of the busiest times of the year, spring planting season. That will likely reduce the number of participants enrolled in the program. “In its second year of availability throughout the country, it is critical that USDA implement the CSP in a timely and effective manner,” says Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Ag Coalition. “Farmers are anxiously waiting to participate in CSP, but are reluctant without seeing the changes NRCS is making.”

Key Points

• Ag and conservation groups urge USDA to move forward with CSP sign-up.

• Groups also want USDA NRCS to make five key changes to the CSP.

• Creating a minimum CSP contract value would help small and beginning farmers.

Groups want key changes

A letter to Vilsack signed by more than 100 organizations requests five changes for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to make to CSP while it moves forward with the 2010 sign-up:

Focus on outcomes. The 2008 Farm Bill directs that there be a CSP payment for both active management of existing conservation systems at the time the contract is accepted and for conservation activities adopted thereafter. NRCS must ensure the list of existing conservation activities a producer may choose to continue under CSP is reasonably comprehensive, including all of the conservation practices and enhancements offered for consideration as newly adopted activities. Doing so will ensure that CSP rewards environmental outcomes and not when a particular activity or practice was adopted.

Get points and prices right. Revisions are needed to the payment structure of CSP, so advanced conservation enhancements receive higher ranking and payment points than more basic conservation practices to which they are related. Also, the CSP payment system should encourage farmers to retain or adopt conservation practices that provide the greatest natural resource and environmental benefits.

Restore legitimate crop rotation definition. NRCS should restore the use of the definition of resource-conserving crop rotations used in the Conservation Security Program (predecessor to Conservation Stewardship Program). The former definition requires perennials and forages in the cropping system, not simply continuous program crop production. The current definition allows CSP payments to go to farmers already getting commodity program payments — a misuse of taxpayer funds.

Restore pastured cropland definition. Land that is planted to grass should be treated as pastured cropland and paid at the cropland price, not the lower pasture payment rate. NRCS should be rewarding the transition of cropland to grass-based agriculture where beneficial to protect the environment.

Provide a minimum CSP payment. Creating a minimum CSP annual contract value will encourage farmers in the Northeast, along with beginning farmers and others producing on land between 1 and 99 acres (making up 54% of all U.S. farms) to participate in the CSP. CSP is the only comprehensive conservation assistance program for whole farms and working lands to resolve particular resource concerns in a given location.

Source: Nat’l Sustainable Ag Coalition

This article published in the April, 2010 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.