The Conservation Security Program is one of the most innovative agricultural conservation programs to ever emerge out of our nation’s capital. Called CSP for short, this initiative rewards farmers for utilizing production practices that save soil, improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat, along with numerous other environmental benefits. It’s a significant departure from general federal commodity programs, which actually penalize farmers for diversifying out of commodity crops like corn and soybeans into diverse systems such as grass, hay and soil-friendly rotations.
CSP has gained the support of family farm, sustainable agriculture and environmental groups because of its potential to produce real environmental benefits on working farmland. Minnesota Environmental Partnership groups such as the Land Stewardship Project, Minnesota Project and the Izaak Walton League have been pushing hard to make this program the major conservation initiative in the 2007 Farm Bill.
CSP has been underfunded and only available in a few watersheds since it was launched in the 2002 Farm Bill. Despite the slow start, it has shown great potential for not only protecting the environment, but also improving it. I’ve been on numerous Midwestern farms that are enrolled in CSP, and what they’ve done to balance stewardship with economic viability is impressive.
One of these farms in the Greg and Cathy Koether livestock operation in northeast Iowa. Greg recently talked to me about how he used to feel like a second-class farmer because the commodity programs punished him for taking extra care of the land and diversifying out of row crops. But earlier this year their farm was accepted into CSP. That means the Koethers are now getting a financial reward for a job well done. Just as importantly, it means the family is getting a pat on the back from the government — and indirectly from taxpayers. Their ecologically sustainable farm is being valued for what it truly is — a public good.
You can hear for yourself what a difference CSP has made in one farm family’s life. Check out Ear to the Ground No. 24. The pride in Greg’s voice says it better than any blog ever could.