Conservation must be a priority for Congress

Farm and Food

Published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on March 16, 2022

In Iowa and across the Midwest, farmers are investing in conservation practices such as cover crops, extended rotation, and nutrient management thanks to the support of programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As Congress looks to set priorities for the 2023 farm bill, it must focus on supporting conservation programs, especially the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), so farmers can continue to voluntarily implement climate-smart agricultural practices that benefit rural communities — both financially and environmentally.

CSP, housed within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS), provides financial and technical resources for farmers implementing voluntary conservation practices. It is a unique program that sets farmers up for long-term investments in conservation through five-year contracts. This, combined with the technical support provided by USDA-NRCS, facilitates continued conservation practice implementation for years to come.

But for too long, CSP has been underfunded and oversubscribed. The budget for CSP has even been cut in half since the program's inception in the 2008 farm bill, when it was allocated $2 billion annually. In 2020, 53 percent of eligible applications went unfunded due to lack of budget availability.

In 2021, Iowa farmers received $19.73 million worth of contracts within CSP. If the other 47 percent of applicants were able to receive contracts, there would be a significant boost in funds distributed in Iowa. The failure of CSP to fulfill the majority of applications not only equates to lost opportunity, but also lost income in our rural agricultural communities.

As we are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the resiliency of our rural communities depends on the financial health of its residents. Farmers are willing to make conservation investments, but they need to be able to rely on working lands conservation programs. The support from these programs help farmers reap the long-term financial benefits of these practices, making them able to reinvest the money in their local communities.

Congressional agriculture committee members are well-positioned to be leaders for American farmers; by boosting CSP funding, they can ensure farmers have a strong future.

Feature photo by Kalee Olson