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CSP charts new policy

It may change way farmers are subsidized

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

The Conservation Security Program doesn't have everything its proponents wanted, but all agree the new conservation program could lead to a new way of subsidizing farmers.

The CSP has an estimated $2 billion price tag over the program's six-year term, but it is an entitlement program, meaning the cost could rise if farmers are interested in the program.

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Any U.S. farmer who applies for the CSP and who meets the established standards can receive payments, said Mark Schultz, Land Stewardship Project policy program director.

"As advocates of conservation and stewardship on working farmland, that was incredibly important," Schultz said. "We consider it a really good step forward. We think it's a really big victory for the land."

Pipestone, Minn., farmer Richard Zupp agrees. The Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts president calls the CSP a "real asset" to the 2002 farm bill.

"I like the conservation aspects of this (bill)," he said. "It's truly a step in the right direction."

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, for example, should help Minnesota livestock producers find funding aid to meet recently enacted feedlot rules, he said.

But Preston, Minn., farmer Dave Serfling is afraid EQIP is tailored to fix the manure problems of large, corporate operations instead of family farms. He questions whether manure storage is conservation or simply a business cost.

However, Serfling is optimistic that the new Grasslands Reserve Program and Conservation Security Program can work for his corner of the state.

Recent farm programs have encouraged farmers to plant row crops, sometimes at the expense of forages and pasture, which has led to increased erosion.

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"We've got good soil and we've got to protect it," Serfling said.

That's where the CSP comes in. The program rewards farmers for conservation on working land.

Three tiers

The CSP has three tiers, said Loni Kemp, senior policy analyst with The Minnesota Project. Tier 1 involves part of the land a farmer operates and Tiers 2 and 3 include all the land farmed.

Each tier has a base payment, a cost share and an enhanced payment, Kemp said.

At the first tier, $20,000 is the payment cap and the base payment can't exceed $5,000. Producers must enroll the land for five years and agree to address at least one resource of concern.

Resources of concern, as defined in the bill, include such things as nutrient management, water conservation, invasive species management, contour farming and controlled rotational grazing.

At Tier 2, the payment is capped at $35,000. The land must be enrolled for five years to 10 years. Producers must address at least one significant resource of concern and actively maintain implemented conservation practices.

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At Tier 3, payments are capped at $45,000. The land must be enrolled for five years to 10 years and include conservation practices that meet the nondegradation standard for all resources of concern of the entire agricultural operation.

The CSP "goes beyond just cost sharing to actually contribute to the profitability of farms that are doing good conservation," Kemp said.

"It sounds like a lot of money …; there's just so much incentive to plant the program crops," Serfling said. "It takes more than just a pencil to decide to go into the CSP, you've got to have it in your heart."

The Minnesota Project, LSP, conservation and farm groups will continue to stay involved as rules are crafted for the Conservation Security Program, due for implementation in fall 2003.

"Just because the farm bill is done, that doesn't mean the work is over," Serfling said.

New challenge

After the rules are written the state's 350 employees in 91 districts have to put the rules into action, which may be a workload challenge.

But Zupp isn't worried.

"We like challenges and we'll certainly rise to the occasion," he said. The Minnesota River CREP increased staff workload, he said, but employees made the program a success.

"I hope a lot of farmers rise to the challenge (and want to participate in the CSP)," Kemp said.

"We like to emphasize to people that the commodity title of the farm bill ended up going even farther down the road of subsidizing just a few commodities," she said, "but the inclusion of this program we think is going to point the way to a very different farm policy in the future."

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