Conservation Program Rewards Sustainable Farmers
By Jason Knapfel for DietsInReview.com
Farming, the very lifeblood of human existence, can also ironically be a destructive force. If done improperly, farming can destroy soil and pollute air and water supplies, particularly through excessive concentrated animal populations.
However, through what is often referred to as conservation agriculture, farming can exist in harmony with its surrounding environment and complete its essential mission of feeding the world.
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is a voluntary conservation program administered by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). It encourages food producers to address activities that involve conserving resources related to producing what makes up our food supply.
To help family farmers, ranchers, and foresters best understand what the CSP is all about, The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a federal lobbying group that advocates for agricultural sustainability, has released an updated version of its Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program.
The guide helps farmers through the enrollment process and provides information on conservation activities that are eligible for CSP payments to improve conservation performance and environmental benefits. Farmers are also given assistance with key definitions and helpful hints on sustainable agriculture.
In exchange for better environmental practices, The Conservation Stewardship Program pays farmers for adopting “new conservation enhancements” and actively managing ongoing conservation activities. Those payments are calibrated directly to the environmental benefits derived from specific practices.
Each geographical region has its own unique agricultural challenges, which are addressed in a five-page section of data analysis. The data includes analysis of program participation by geographic region, land use type, commodity type, and the top conservation practices and enhancements chosen by farmers and ranchers who enrolled in the program.
Some of the important issues addressed by the program include water quality, wildlife habitat, soil quality and erosion. In some areas of the country, water conservation and air quality are also important considerations.
CSP has proven popular, with twice as many applicants as there is funding available. Enrollment is based on environmental benefit scores determined by the Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT).
In just three years, the program has made significant progress, enrolling close to 30,000 farmers and ranchers who operate more than 37.5 million acres of farm and ranch land, all of which are currently under five-year, renewable contracts.
So far payments are averaging $170 million per year per sign-up. That’s about $850 million for each annual enrollment class over the course of the five-year contract. Individual farmer contracts are capped at $40,000 per year, with the average-sized contract currently between $15,000 and $20,000 per year.
Information provided via press release from The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.