Out to Pasture

By Elisha Greeley Smith

There is good news for farmers and ranchers wanting to participate in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Thanks to the efforts of concerned farmers, the Center for Rural Affairs and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, farmers who convert their cropland to grazing land will receive higher payment rates than before.

When conservation programs such as the CSP are in the thick of farmer sign-ups, the Center for Rural Affairs' Farm Bill Helpline is there to answer farmers' questions and learn from their experiences. Last year we learned that farmers who converted their cropland to grazing land were receiving half of the payment per acre compared to land maintained as cropland, in spite of the environmental benefits of grass.

We worked together and voiced our concern to the national Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff responsible for this provision, arguing that CSP should reward environmental benefits and consider income forgone in achieving those benefits.

Because of our persistence, progress was made and the rule was changed. The final rule re-establishes the "pastured cropland" category to provide higher payment rates than the regular pasture rate. This is a positive step forward for the CSP - one that will reward farmers who make investments that provide long-term conservation benefits and economic opportunity.

To get in on this year's ranking, apply with your local NRCS by June 25. Be sure and share your experience with our Helpline so we can continue to learn how the program is working. For more information, click here.