Iowa Public Television


Conservation Security Program Scrutiny

posted on February 13, 2004

Nearly a month into the latest session of Congress, official Washington is revving up the legislative machine. Among this week's actions, lawmakers introduced a national farm animal identification program ... and a leaner, meaner energy bill.

Under the animal detection plan, the government would buy I.D. tags, and farmers and ranchers would be responsible for attaching them to livestock. Under the new energy plan, initial costs were cut by more than half, including $3 billion less in payments for farmers to promote corn-based ethanol. The new bill also eliminates a provision to protect the makers of the gasoline additive MTBE from product liability lawsuits.

A separate law already on the books is drawing attention in farm country. The Conservation Security Program is the government's first stab at a "green" alternative to the commodity payment program that rewards producers for being good land stewards. But as officials learned this week, not everyone is thrilled with the program's proposed implementation.

Conservation Security Program Scrutiny Over the course of a five-year contract, farmers and ranchers who participate in the Conservation Security Program, or CSP, would receive incentive payments for improvements made to environmentally sensitive land. As implementation nears, the USDA is holding listening sessions to get public opinion on the measure.

Gary Margheim, Special Assistant to the Chief, NRCS: "So far, I haven't heard many people be complacent about our CSP proposed rule. They're either very excited, and some folks are disturbed about it."

This week, four listening session were held around the country. The one in Iowa was attended by a diverse group of more than 130 people.

Carl Roberts, Farmer, Belmond, IA: " The CSP, from when I talked to Tom Harkin, is supposed to be a program to reward people that have been doing things right. If the had been doing things right, it would be a priority area. It wouldn't need the help."

Craig Hill, Iowa Farm Bureau: "We also are opposed to the limiting of eligibility based on the watershed approach. This approach is not consistent with the intent of CSP program and drastically reduces producer participation."

Francis Thicke, Dairy Farmer, Fairfield, Iowa: "If were going to yell at you, we know that you can't do it unless you get their approval. We're going to yell at you so you go back and yell at them."

The one overriding opinion from both sides of the fence was that the measure, though well intentioned, did not go far enough.

The objections included the fact that

-No provisions were made for farmers or ranchers to join the program and then make improvements.

-Funds would be distributed to farms and ranches located in a few environmentally sensitive watersheds.

-Payments were not high enough to encourage participation.

-And the amount of money a farmer could receive was limited to $45 thousand per year.

For its part, the National Resources Conservation Service, the division assigned to administrate the measure, sees the rule as another voluntary program to promote good stewardship. Because of the potentially large number expected to participate, the NRCS is planning to limit contracts to land in environmentally sensitive watersheds. Those watersheds would be selected based on the vulnerability of surface and ground water quality, the amount of soil degradation and the condition of grazing land. And in what appears to be a nod to those who would accuse the program of just being another method of siphoning money to farmers, those operators who participate in the conservation reserve program, or CRP, would not be eligible.

Despite all the negative comments heard at the Iowa session, officials still are hopeful they will be able to write some CSP contracts yet this year.

Tags: agriculture conservation news security