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Last week's commentary led a reader to question whether Democrats will put more or less money into the Conservation Security Program (CSP) and will they speed up the funding for current contracts? This is a great question, and a topic that I think will continue. Many commodity and environmental groups as well as farmers have been vocal supporters of CSP. The lead author of the program, Sen. Tom Harkin, will chair up the Senate Agriculture Committee during next year's farm bill writing.
As I mentioned in my previous post, working conservation land programs will take on a much greater role rather than idle land programs in the next farm bill.
As a farmers' daughter, I occasionally get into conversations about politics, but thank goodness it's about ag politics. This time my uncle joined in on the conversation about how the Conservation Security Program has great benefits, but are you giving up too many of your rights as a landowner to participate?
From that discussion, I did a story in our January 2006 Farm Futures issue (page 1) and (page 2) that questioned whether CSP got it's needed test drive in over the past several years to get enough support in the 2007 debate.
I think CSP is well-liked in the countryside, but because so few farmers have used it, it's almost like the government cried wolf on a "national" program that "rewards the best and motivates the rest."
With Harkin at the helm, I strongly believe CSP will get more widely-funded in the next farm bill. He's been very critical of the lack of a true national program. Realize if it gets more widely-funded, that money has to come from somewhere and the treasury isn't overflowing with funds like it was during the last writing of the farm bill. The chunk of money may come from other traditional commodity funds.
Its unlikely funding for current contracts will speed up. The government has its hands tied on how much money it can spend on the program.
The real question is whether legislators can write this program so that it can be truly national. They thought they did it in 2002, but we all found out differently.
Send me your comments about the CSP program and whether you think it should be a small or large part of the next farm bill.