Conservation program offers $202 million to ‘reward the best’


SALEM, Ohio – More money, more farmers and more conservation are the high points of the 2005 Conservation Security Program.
Sign-ups for the voluntary program kicked off March 28 in every state, offering 235,000 farmers an opportunity to take a cash payment for their conservation work.
The stakes are high: This year’s program budget is up almost five-fold, from $41 million last year to $202 million this year.
Farms sitting on more than 185 million acres in 50 states and the Caribbean are eligible.
What is CSP? The Conservation Security Program, or CSP, encourages farmers to implement cutting-edge conservation techniques, according to Bruce Knight, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
It’s available for farmers with cropland or pastures, orchards or vineyards or vegetable plots, as well as forested farms.
Six Ohio watersheds are eligible in this second round. Owners of more than 11,000 farms in 25 counties covering more than 2.2 million acres can sign up.
No western Pennsylvania watersheds are included in this round.
Reward and motivate. Knight calls it “one of the most exciting conservation programs rolled out in a long time.”
“This one rewards the best and motivates the rest,” Knight said, noting the dream of the program is to reward those who have always been leaders and empower them to do even more.
Payments up to $45,000 a year will be made on perceived environmental outcomes for reducing risks, he said. The payments last the life of the contract – five to 10 years.
A change from most other government programs, he says, is the “outcome makes a difference, not the practice itself.”
The program is being conducted on a watershed basis, since environmental impacts – the goal of the program – aren’t measured along county or state lines, but among linked water resources in a watershed, says Ohio NRCS spokeswoman Chris Coulon.
More eligible. In 2004, the federal conservation service chose 18 watersheds – including two in Ohio – to participate.
Both in northwestern Ohio, the St. Joseph and Auglaize watersheds cover portions of nine counties. Producers in those watersheds signed 243 contracts totaling nearly $3.5 million.
Only Iowa had more contracts, and Illinois and Oregon received more total funding. Average payment was $17,000 per contract nationwide.
Real-world farmers. Lyle Hug and his son, Corey, 31, farm about 2,800 acres of grain near Edon in Williams County, Ohio. They also farm across the state line in Indiana.
When they first heard about the program last year, they were skeptical. But their questions have been replaced by a bankroll that’s helped put in more grassed waterways and buy no-till equipment.
“This program is about clean water. We’re doing what we can to keep the water in the St. Joe [River] clean,” Lyle Hug said.
“If you do a good job, you get compensated for it. If you don’t do anything, you won’t get the money,” Corey Hug said.
New opportunity. In this second round, funding is offered to farmers of all sizes in 220 watersheds.
That includes 202 newly selected watersheds, plus the original 18 eligible last year.
“The first time a program is out, all us farmers tend to be a little slow on wanting to go in and be the first to sign up. This gives the first 18 watersheds a second bite at the apple,” says Bruce Knight.
The NRCS estimates it will write 12,000-14,000 contracts within the budget. Farmers with current contracts are not eligible to sign up again.
One of eight. The federal program is operating on an eight-year rotation. Each year, producers in one-eighth of the nation’s 2,119 watersheds will be offered the opportunity to participate, according to the NRCS Web site.
This allows NRCS technicians to focus their work on farmers who are applying. Or, if your watershed isn’t currently eligible, it’s the perfect time to work with a technician to address concerns and begin getting all paperwork in line.
Budget woes. USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture Mark Rey tells farmers to remain confident during the sign-up process that they can receive part of the funding despite the Bush administration’s budget cuts.
Rey said the CSP budget is not targeted for budget cuts and the Bush administration is “four-square in favor of implementing this program.”
Sign up. Sign-up runs through May 27.
The sign-up procedure will take time, Bruce Knight warns, but will be made easier by good on-farm recordkeeping.
“When I first saw that [self-assessment] book, I thought it would take us a long time,” says farmer Corey Hug.
He and his father took a couple evenings to dig through records and complete the workbook, then relied on their local NRCS technicians to help with the rest.
“Really, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. Don’t let the book scare you away,” Hug said.
Farmers who applied last year helped streamline this year’s application, Knight said.
The agencies found its internal software was “needlessly complex” and have tailored the application and paperwork to require less handling and signatures.
USDA and NRCS also expanded opportunities for payments to nontraditional farms, like sugarbushes and other specialty producers.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at

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