A look at the Conservation Security Program for the 2007 farm bill

April 17, 2006

Boston, MA -- The Conservation Security Program (CSP)--the first comprehensive green payment system that pays farmers for good land stewardship--is currently being debated by US policymakers. First enacted as part of the federal 2002 farm bill and still in early stages of implementation, CSP is up for congressional reauthorization and possible reconfiguration in the upcoming 2007 farm bill.

In a study conducted with collaboration and support from the American Farmland Trust, Kathleen Merrigan, PhD, and a team of graduate students from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, explore the impact of the current CSP on farmers in New England. The study explores whether CSP works in New England and makes recommendations for program reforms.

The research team's findings and conclusions are presented in a report entitled "The Conservation Security Program: Rewards and Challenges for New England Farmers." The report is based on eight case studies of real or hypothetical CSP contracts, including dairy, cranberry, apple, and organic and conventional vegetable farms. These contracts represent typical New England farm types and crops.

"The CSP, which provides US farmers significant financial payments, was designed to address both international concerns about trade distortion and domestic concerns about the environmental impact of agriculture," says Merrigan, assistant professor at the Friedman School and director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program and the Center for Agriculture, Food and Environment. Merrigan adds, "In our case studies, farmers enrolled in the CSP could expect to receive as little as eight dollars an acre to as much as 45 dollars an acre for participation. Whatever the amount, we want to make sure the money is well spent."

Merrigan says that good land stewardship practices include managing the quality of soil and water. "For example, by rotating the feeding and watering areas of their land, farmers distribute nutrients more evenly and can better manage the quality of their soil. Pest management and irrigation practices are also important in agricultural conservation," she reports.

Merrigan's team analyzed the few New England farms that already held contracts through CSP. In order to include more farms and the desired range of farm types, they also chose to create hypothetical contracts for farms that seemed likely to be candidates for participation in CSP. Merrigan said, "We hope this study will contribute to the nationwide discussion on the redesign of CSP and help document, for Congress, the importance of full funding for this conservation initiative."

Merrigan says, "By asking some key questions about the current eligibility requirements and payment structure of CSP, we were able to identify several ways the program might be improved upon for the future." The changes Merrigan and her team propose include increased outreach to farmers who might not consider themselves "conservation-minded," longer sign-up periods that coincide with the growing season, the removal of financial caps for payments, and the use of a universal application to streamline the application process for all programs offered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which is responsible for CSP.

In April, the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at the Friedman School and American Farmland Trust co-hosted a presentation of the project's findings and conclusions. Following the presentation, which was open to the public, key regional leaders in agriculture discussed how the findings relate to other changes being recommended to the program and to the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill of 2007.

Merrigan was formerly the administrator of the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service and was the staff author of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which mandated national organic standards and a program of federal accreditation.
Lundgren B, Biergiel J, Donovan M, Lee C, Merrigan K. (April 2006) "The Conservation Security Program: Rewards and Challenges for New England Farmers." Report from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Agriculture, Food and Environment Program, Tufts University, and American Farmland Trust.

If you are interested in learning more about these topics, or speaking with a faculty member at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, or another Tufts health sciences researcher, please contact Siobhan Gallagher at 617-636-6586 or Peggy Hayes at 617-636-3707.

The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight centers, which focus on questions relating to famine, hunger, poverty, and communications, are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy. For two decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies.

Tufts University

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