Agriculture and Conservation Groups Urge Vilsack to Move Forward with the 2010

Agriculture and Conservation Groups Urge Vilsack to Move Forward with the 2010  
Conservation Stewardship Program Sign Up

Washington, D.C. March 12, 2010 - Today, more than 100 family farm and conservation groups sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack urging him to make critical improvements to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) 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 programmatic changes to CSP have not yet been announced by USDA, producers do not know what exactly they are signing up for in 2010.  In addition, USDA is holding up the official announcement of the 2010 CSP sign-up until they issue a final rule for the program, forcing farmers to sign up during their busiest time of year - spring planting season - likely reducing the number of participants enrolled in the program.  

"In its second year of availability throughout the country, it is critical that the USDA implement the Conservation Stewardship Program in a timely and effective manner," said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. "Farmers across the country are anxiously waiting to participate in CSP, but are understandably reluctant without seeing the changes NRCS is making.  We urge the USDA to move swiftly in making the necessary changes and announce the 2010 CSP sign up as soon as possible and before the final rule is released so that farmers and ranchers can take advantage of this important program."

The letter to Secretary Vilsack signed by more than 100 organizations outlines six important changes for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to make to CSP while it moves forward with the 2010 sign up:

•    Focus on outcomes - The 2008 Farm Bill directs there to 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 particularly activity or practice was adopted.

•    Get the Points and Prices Right - Revisions are needed to the payment structure of CSP so that advanced conservation enhancements receive higher ranking and payment points than more basic conservation practices to which they are related.  In addition, the CSP payment system should encourage farmers and ranchers to retain or adopt conservation practices that provide the greatest natural resource and environmental benefits.

•    Restore a Legitimate Resource-Conserving Crop Definition - NRCS should restore the use of the definition of resource-conserving crop rotations used in the Conservation Security Program (predecessor to the Conservation Stewardship Program).  The former definition requires perennials and forages in the cropping system, not simply continuous program crop production.  The current definition essentially allows CSP payments to go to farmers already getting commodity program payments and is a blatant misuse of taxpayer resources.  

•    Restore the Pastured Cropland Definition - Cropland 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, beginning farmers, and others producing on land between 1 and 99 acres (making up 54 percent of all U.S. farms) to participate in the CSP.  

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is the only comprehensive conservation assistance program for whole farms and working lands to resolve particular resource concerns in a given location.  The 2008 Farm Bill increased funding for CSP to allow NRCS to enroll 12.8 million acres of farm and ranch land each year, or nearly 130 million acres over the next ten years.  

To read the sign-on letter, click here.

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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 and urban food systems and communities.