Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Will CSP get short-changed?

By Tim
Spielman
Associate Editor

St. Paul – A highly regarded federal conservation program, still
considered in its infancy, is already feeling the funding squeeze,
according to conservation groups, including the Minnesota
Project.

Signup for the Conservation Security Program, administered by
the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation
Service, recently wrapped up – with just 14 contracts awarded – all
in the Red Lake watershed in northern Minnesota.

That’s a far cry from what Loni Kemp, the Minnesota Project’s
senior policy analyst, expected for the state. Eighty-three
applications were made by state landowners.

‘We didn’t do that badly in finding eligible farmers,’ Kemp
said. However, the applications weren’t ‘top of the line,’ and due
to decreases in federal funding for CSP, some of the less desirable
applicants fell shy of acceptance. There are three ‘tiers’
regarding quality of applicants.

Kemp says language in the federal farm bill that created the
program was supposed to ensure that eligible applicants would be
allowed to participate.

‘The conservation standards are high; (if applications are
completed appropriately), a lot of money was supposed to flow,’ she
said.

Kemp said this is the third year of CSP signup, although the
first year the program was considered in its ‘pilot’ stage and a
limited number of watershed areas were considered. Federal
officials have made available CSP funding to watershed landowners
on a rotational basis, because of the uncertainty of funding
levels, she said.

In Minnesota, Leah M. Duzy, agricultural economist of the NRCS
in St. Paul, said there are 137 contracts from the 2004 signup and
566 from 2005. This year, the contract number tumbled to 14. Former
watersheds include the Blue Earth, Red Lake, Red Eye, Sauk,
Redwood, and Root.

The Thief River watershed, originally slated to be eligible for
CSP contracts this year, was contracted when funding shrunk.

Neighboring states have fared much better in terms of CSP
contract numbers. Iowa had 133 last year, while Wisconsin had 155.
The Dakotas had a combined 168. So, why so low in Minnesota? Kemp
said it could be a matter of demand, and targeting more favorable
areas in the state.

She said she’s encouraged Bill Hunt, state conservationist for
the NRCS in St. Paul, to consider for next year watershed areas
where there might be even more landowner interest – and where
conservation practices may be more prevalent.

CSP is a voluntary conservation program that rewards private
landowners for their ongoing stewardship of natural resources,
according to the NRCS. CSP contracts include all agricultural
production sectors, including livestock operations to cropland and
more.

It includes an annual stewardship payment, an annual existing
practice payment, a one-time new practice payment, and/or an
enhancement payment for additional conservation practices.

‘It’s a working lands program,’ Duzy said. ‘Our motto continues
to be, ‘reward the best, motivate the rest.’ ‘

Nationwide, the NRCS said there were more than 8,570
applications received during the fiscal year 2006 CSP signup. Just
over half of those were awarded contracts.

A press release from the USDA states the department ‘expects to
fully invest the $259 million provided by Congress for FY 2006.
That amount covers prior CSP contracts and includes $50 million for
FY 2006 contracts.’

Kemp said some of the funding was eaten up by landowners who
improved their tier standing by improving their conservation
practices.

Next year, she said there are concerns there could be even less
money available for new CSP contracts. Kemp said the House already
has proposed a budget of $280 million.

‘When you only go up that much, there would be no new
enrollments next year,’ she said.

Kemp said the Bush administration proposal is higher, and the
Senate has historically ‘come back and ‘uncapped’ the program.’

‘The House really failed this program in its ’07 proposal,’ she
said.

Whatever funding is available, Kemp said it’s important that
landowners in the watershed(s) selected are given notice with
plenty of lead time. That gives landowners time to prepare
applications and a better shot at program participation.

The Minnesota Project’s focus is rural development, with an
emphasis on environmental and economic issues, Kemp said.

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