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Bartz enthused about CSP proposed rule

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

simmet@agrinews.com

AMES, Iowa -- Merlin Bartz, a Grafton farmer and former state legislator, pinch hit for NRCS Chief Bruce Knight at last week's Iowa Corn and Soybean Growers Policy Conference in Ames.

Bartz, special assistant to the USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, got to announce that the USDA finally released the proposed rule to implement the Conservation Security Program.

"To quote secretary Veneman, 'The program will reward the best and motivate the best,' " Bartz said.

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Authorized by the 2002 farm bill, the CSP is designed to complement existing conservation programs by supporting ongoing conservation stewardship.

To insure that CSP's limited resources are focused first on the most pressing environmental concerns, the rule proposes to prioritize eligibility based on selected priority watersheds. The watersheds would be announced and identified through a CSP sign-up notification, which is targeted for summer 2004.

Under the proposal, agricultural land in cropland, orchards, vineyards, pasture and range will be eligible for CSP, regardless of size or crops produced. Forest land or land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program or Grassland Reserve Program isn't eligible.

Payments can include four components. An annual base component for the benchmark conservation treatment, an annual existing practice component for maintaining existing conservation practices, a one-time new practice component for implementing additional practices and an enhancement component for exceptional conservation effort.

Bartz said the rule has a 60-day comment period, and listening sessions will be held around the country.

"I know that many Iowans and commodity groups in Iowa have been patiently waiting for the rules,'' Bartz said. "The cool thing about the CSP is that it recognizes farmers and ranchers who historically practiced good stewardship on their land. It shifts conservation goals from land retirement to working lands.''

Bartz said in some people have accused the administration of not supporting the program.

"One of the president's big tenets when he signed the farm bill was that it had to be high on conservation,'' Bartz said. "His edict was to get this up and running.''

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Bartz said the rule making process took so long because Congress made four major changes to CSP in the 18 months USDA has been developing rules.

"We feel these rules now have the flexibility to address whatever direction Congress wants to go,'' Bartz said.

Bartz said he thinks farmers will be pleased with the rules.

"This can really work,'' he said.

Not everyone is happy. Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said the proposal to limit enrollment to producers who reside within a limited number of watersheds doesn't fit the Conservation Security Program as it was passed by Congress.

"The authority to severely limit the program in this way simply does not exist, either under current law or under the terms of the pending omnibus appropriations bill,'' Hoefner said.

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