WASHINGTON – As the U.S. Department of Agriculture works towards 2018 Farm Bill implementation with the introduction of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) interim rule, National Farmers Union (NFU) is urging the agency to strengthen the working lands program to better help farmers improve conservation practices on their operations. In comments submitted to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and in a statement released today, NFU President Roger Johnson emphasized the program’s value and recommended improvements to ensure its efficacy.
“Family farmers and ranchers understand the importance of conserving natural resources and mitigating climate change – their very livelihoods depend on it. But the agricultural practices that build soil, water, and air quality, bolster biodiversity, and sequester atmospheric carbon often require significant time, money, and expertise. That’s why programs that provide financial and technical assistance for conservation efforts – including the Conservation Stewardship Program – are so vital and so popular. Currently, far more farmers are applying for contracts than available funding can support.
“Given the high demand for and considerable value of CSP, it is especially important that every single dollar set aside for the program in the farm bill be used prudently and in full. There are a number of ways to get more environmental bang for the program’s buck. For one, the application process should not penalize long-term stewardship by prioritizing applicants who have not previously engaged in best practices over those who have. Instead, contracts should be awarded based on overall environmental benefits provided.
“Additionally, CSP should not just benefit the largest operations, nor should it benefit those not actively farming – in order to make funding available to the largest number of engaged farmers possible, USDA should enforce a payment limit of $200,000 and prohibit payments to cash-rent landlords.
“Finally, CSP should give greater consideration to soil health. Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy farm: not only does it boost crop yields, but it also mitigates climate change by storing carbon and helps farmers adapt by building resilience to extreme weather events. All conservation programs, CSP included, should reflect the vital role of soil health – we urge NRCS to be more specific and expansive in its soil health efforts to better help farmers as they cope with a rapidly changing climate.”