Conservation program hits bump


CANTON, Ohio – Almost two years after the farm bill OK’d a program to financially reward the best conservation stewards, the public and government are still grappling over the specifics.

The drumbeat across the country sounds like not everyone is happy with the Conservation Security Program, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey told Farm and Dairy.

Rey was in Canton Feb. 20 to discuss environmental policy at a Rotary Club meeting.

In its proposal released early this year, National Resources Conservation Service said it planned to limit the program to priority watersheds.

But at listening sessions across the country, the public criticized the watershed restriction, saying it discourages participation.

Rey said the watershed restriction was included as a place to start the funding signup.

The public comment period ends March 2.

Funding caps. Money is another hot topic.

Congress put a $41 million cap on spending for the Conservation Security Program. This would fund between 100 and 500 contracts, according to the conservation service.

Rey said the cap was removed in the 2005 appropriations bill and funding stands at $205 million.

The cap was in place when the conservation service released its proposal, but now that it’s removed, the rules should be updated to reflect this change, according to Iowa Farm Bureau.

The program is supposed to give all farmers who meet the qualifications a chance to participate, Iowa Farm Bureau Vice President Craig Hill said in a news release.

“The proposed rules were written with the cap in mind and therefore place unnecessary restrictions on the eligibility for CSP,” he said.

Public comments will be considered when National Resources Conservation Service develops the final rule, Rey said.

He hopes the final rule will be ready by the end of July.

Criteria, money. Eligible producers must meet basic criteria:

* land must be privately owned, with the majority in a priority watershed.

* producer must have control of land for life of contract.

* applicant must share in risk of producing any crop or livestock and share in its marketing.

Applicants will be placed into one of three tiers for their levels of conservation stewardship.

Payments are based on tier, and range from a maximum of $20,000 annually for five years, to a maximum of $45,000 annually for 10 years.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at

*      Submit a public comment:

      NRCS Conservation

      Operations Division

      P.O. Box 2890

      Washington, DC 20013


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