Conservation security program


Conservation security program

The Conservation Security Program was established under the 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (FSRIA). The Act amended the Food Security Act of 1985 to authorize the program. The Conservation Security Program is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Conservation Security Program is a voluntary conservation program that supports ongoing stewardship of private agricultural lands by providing payments and technical assistance for maintaining and enhancing natural resources. The Conservation Security Program provides not only financial, but technical assistance to promote the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life, and other conservation purposes. The CSP can be used on Tribal and private working lands. All 50 states, the Caribbean area, and the Pacific Basin area have all incorporated the CSP. The program provides equitable access to benefit all producers, regardless of size of operation, crops produced, or geographic location. The Conservation Security Program helps producers maintain conservation stewardship and implement additional conservation practices that provide added environmental enhancement, while creating powerful incentives for other producers to meet those same standards of conservation performance. The NRCS believes “The conservation benefits gained will help farms and ranches be more environmentally sustainable and will increase the natural resources benefits provided to all Americans.”

Tiers

The Conservation Security Program uses a three-tiered approach to pay the land owners. The producer voluntarily chooses the tier for participation. A conservation security plan must be approved in order for the producer to be eligible (3). Tier I is the first level that land owners can participate in.. At this level, the farmer signs a five-year plan that addresses soil quality and water quality to the described minimum level of treatment for eligible land uses on part of the agricultural operation prior to acceptance (3,6,7). Tier II is the middle tier. The farmer signs a 5 to 10 year contract that addresses soil quality and water quality to the described minimum level of treatment on all eligible land uses on the entire agricultural operation prior to acceptance and agree to address one additional resource by the end of the contract period (3,6,7). Tier III is the last and final tier. In this tier, the farmer signs a 5 to 10 year plan where the producer must have addressed all applicable resource concerns to a resource management system level that meets the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide standards on all eligible land uses on the entire agricultural operation before acceptance into the program and have riparian zones adequately treated (3,7).

Program functions

As with any program a person can become involved with, the Conservation Security Program has only a few steps in how the process works. According to the NRCS, the first step for the CSP is to know what selected watersheds across the Nation the CSP is offered in. Anyone can find the list of selected watersheds on the NRCS website or at their offices located nationwide. Next, producers complete a self-assessment, including a description of conservation activities on their operations, to help determine their eligibility for CSP at the time. Once again, the NRCS website offers the self-assessment page, as does their state offices. Once an eligible producer in the selected watershed completes the self-assessment, they must schedule an interview to submit an application at their local NRCS office. Then based on the application, description of current conservation activities, and the interview, the NRCS determines CSP eligibility and in which program tier and enrollment category the applicant may participate (3). The CSP proved to be an outstanding program the first year it was available. About 9,000 people contacted a field office or attended a local workshop about the CSP the first year. About 4,800 producer requests were registered at the local field office. Of these, 2,800 complete the self-assessment put forth by the program and made application towards the program. And finally, 2,180 contracts were approved as eligible for the Conservation Security Program. The USDA actually accepted all eligible CSP applications that were submitted during the first sign-up period (6).

Eligibility

In order to be eligible for the Conservation Security Program, the producer and producer’s operation first must meet the basic eligibility criteria. The CSP requires that the land must be privately owned or Tribal land and the majority of the land must be located within one of the selected watersheds. Also, the applicant must be in compliance with highly erodible and wetland provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985, have an active interest in the agricultural operation, and have control of the land for the life of the contract. The applicant for the CSP must also share in the risk of producing any crop or livestock and be entitled to share in the crop or livestock marketed for the operation (6).

Watersheds

Often people wonder why the NRCS implemented the CSP on a watershed basis verses a nationwide bases. The NRCS stands behind their decision and believe a staged, watershed-based implementation of CSP made the most sense – economically, practically, and administratively. They feel that focusing on high priority watersheds will reduce the administrative burden on applicants, and will reduce the costs of processing a large number of applications that cannot be funded. Also, the NRCS expects that a significant number of producers will seek participation in the Conservation Security Program and ask for assistance to determine their potential eligibility for the program. By law, the NRCS cannot incur technical assistance costs in excess of 15 percent of the funds expended in that fiscal year for the CSP. Given this modest service funding, the NRCS must focus and limit the land and landowners that its conservations can serve at one time. Offering the Conservation Security Program in only selected watersheds provides that focus (4,6). In the fiscal year of 2004, 18 watersheds from across the Nation were selected as part of the Conservation Security Program. In 2005, the number of watersheds increased drastically to 202 to have at least one per state and the Caribbean area. As the CSP expands, other watersheds will be selected each year with the input of the State Conservationists, until landowners in every watershed have had a chance to participate (4,5). The Natural Resources Conservation Service uses watershed prioritization to determine specific areas eligible for accepting CSP applications in each sign-up. The NRCS nationally prioritizes the watershed based on a score derived from a composite index of existing natural resource, environmental quality, and agricultural activity data. The watershed prioritization and identification process considers several factors. Some of these factors include vulnerability of surface and ground water quality. Also, potential for excessive soil quality degradation and condition of grazing land are also factors that are considering in determining the watersheds used for the Conservation Security Program (4,6).

Political issues

Each year that the farm bill is brought about to Congress, it is always a huge topic of discussion. As stated before, the CSP was established in the 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act. This year, there has been some disagreement about the CSP. Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin says that he intends to push funding for land conservation programs above the spending levels in the farm bill. Harkin also said he wanted to increase enrollment in the CSP to convert|80000000|acre|km2 by 2012, as well as to combine the CSP with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which pays for environmental cleanup of livestock operations and other facilities (9). On the other hand, the House of Representatives Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson says that it’s not very realistic to get to any level of spending on the CSP that Harkin wants. In the House, Peterson redirected spending on the CSP enrollment to other conservation programs and has also been heard saying that the CSP does not have as much support among farmers as other conservation programs (1). To conclude, one way to help conserve the environment is to be part of the Conservation Security Program. Many people have benefited already for this fairly new project. Those many people do not just include land owners, but everyone in the nation because our natural resources and our land are being conserved for generations to come.

References

* [Anonymous] . 2007. Peterson will dole out portions of farm bill proposal. CongressDaily 17:9
*Conservation reserve program. 2007. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Washington, D.C. Available from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/crp/ (Accessed December 2007).
*Conservation security program. 2007. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Washington, D.C. Available from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/ (Accessed December 2007).
*Conservation security program watersheds, FY-2007. 2007. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Washington, D.C. Available from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/2007_CSP_WS.html (Accessed December 2007).
*CSP fact sheet. 2007. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Washington, D.C. Available from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/pdf_files/csp_fs3_05.pdf (Accessed December 2007).
*CSP questions and answers. 2007. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Washington, D.C. Available from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/cspqa5905.pdf (Accessed December 2007).
*Grasslands reserve program. 2007. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Washington, D.C. Available from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/grp/ (Accessed December 2007).
*Hagstrom J. 2007. Senate farm bill will boost conservation programs. CongressDaily 30:6
*Wetlands reserve program. 2007. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Washington, D.C. Available from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/wrp/ (Accessed December 2007).
* [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0DE6D6123BF931A15752C1A9659C8B63 Save the Conservation Security Program] . "New York Times", November 22 2003
* [http://www.rgj.com/news/stories/html/2005/04/14/97056.php Signup announced for Conservation Security Program] . "Reno Gazette-Journal", April 14 2005


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