LSP Promotes CSP at a Critical Time

This week, the Land Stewardship Project is reaching out to farmers across Minnesota and Wisconsin with an important message: now is the time to sign-up for a program that rewards you for practices that produce positive conservation benefits on the land. The deadline for enrolling in the current Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) round of contracts is Friday, May 10. The combination of the government shut down and the need to make changes mandated by the new Farm Bill leaves farmers a small window of opportunity to sign up for 2019 CSP contracts.

LSP is mailing out postcard and e-mail alerts to farmers, as well as launching a radio campaign aimed at getting the attention of farmers whose focus is now aimed at the 2019 growing season. (The radio ad is available here). In the ad, LSP farmer-member Ryan Batalden says, “Like many farmers, stewardship is a core value for me. The Conservation Stewardship Program provides payments for the conservation I do on my farm and encourages me to do more.”

CSP is a five-year working lands conservation contract with a minimum farm payment of $1,500 per year and a payment cap of $40,000 per year. It was the subject of intense Farm Bill negotiation, and targeted for elimination by lawmakers who do not agree that farmers should receive support for maintaining and improving conservation outcomes already in place on their farms. This policy of “green payments” recognizes that certain innovative practices have value and positive impact beyond farm field borders.

The concept of green payments built into farmland programs like CSP has been a farm policy priority for LSP since the program’s launch in 2002. The CSP program was a policy idea generated by LSP farmer-members, advanced by farmer-member testimony in front of lawmakers in Washington, and driven to Farm Bill inclusion by the organizing work of LSP and allies in the sustainable agriculture movement. In the 2018 Farm Bill, LSP sought further policy changes that link a farm’s level of conservation to Farm Bill support, such as easing crop insurance roadblocks to cover crop adoption and increasing the crop insurance premium subsidy for farmers based on conservation performance. These priorities were a part of LSP’s Our Farm Bill Campaign. The cover crop provision made it into the 2018 Bill. The increased premium subsidy for conservation provision did not.

LSP and allies succeeded in keeping CSP in the 2018 Farm Bill, and won some improvements, such as increased payments for cover crops, conservation rotations, and managed rotational grazing. But the impact of one major change means less funding for CSP down the road. CSP funding will no longer be linked to a national acreage goal of 10 million acres of new contracts per year, but subject to a yearly monetary limit. Just how this will be obligated to individual states is still uncertain.

On the flip side, funding for CSP’s cost-share partner, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), was strengthened, and a CSP-like feature of 5- and 10-year “Incentive Contracts” for management type practices was added. The main differences between CSP and EQIP are that 1) unlike CSP, EQIP does not offer payments for levels of conservation already in place on farms, and 2) unlike CSP, EQIP does not involve enrolling the entire farm operation.

Do you have questions or input about these two major Farm Bill conservation programs? LSP would like to hear from you. Please take this short three-question survey below, or contact me via e-mail.

LSP organizer Tom Nuessmeier works on federal policy issues.