The Center for Rural Affairs explored the experiences farmers and ranchers had with the Conservation Security Program and on Thursday released the results in a report titled "The Conservation Security Program: An Assessment of Farmers' Experience with Program Implementation."
The CSP is a voluntary stewardship incentives program designed to reward farmers and ranchers for adopting advances conservation systems that provide environmental services benefiting the country as a whole. The program pays farmers for clean water, better soil management, improved habitat, energy efficiency, and other natural resource benefits.
According the Center for Rural Affairs, the majority of farmers showed strong support for the CSP, but the interviews revealed some concerns as well.
"Through our hotline and interviews we have found that the CSP is a very promising conservation program that farmers and ranchers are very excited about," says the Center's Traci Bruckner. "There is no question, however, that the lack of appropriate funding for the program, stemming from continuous budgetary assaults, as well as problematic administrative implementation, have kept the program from reaching its full potential."
Some Center for Rural Affairs recommendations that came out of the report include:
- Full CSP funding by Congress in the 2007 farm bill to address limited watershed selection and allow the program to function as intended, nationally.
- Use of a comprehensive index that actually measures soil quality on the farm to address the program bias toward no-till farming and level the playing field for farmers using diverse sustainable and organic farming systems.
- Addition of a crop diversity index to the eligibility criteria to enable farmers and ranchers who have adopted crop rotations for conservation (the 2002 farm bill mandated special incentives for resource-conserving crop rotations but there are no criteria currently in program use).
- Removal of the program provision that USDA created to sort applications by category which, although expressly prohibited in the 2002 farm bill, has nonetheless become equivalent to an applicant ranking system.
- Bringing the current regulatory mechanism that requires farmers and ranchers to achieve 100% of all aspects of the eligibility bar before being allowed into the program in line with the language in the 2002 farm bill that requires contractual agreements for those requirement.