Report: Region's conservation funding could drop

WASHINGTON -- If the U.S. House version of the next farm bill is approved, the Upper Midwest would suffer nation-leading losses in federal funding for working lands conservation, according to a new report.
The U.S. House version of the next farm bill would cut funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program by $5 billion over the next 10 years, with most of the cuts coming from the Upper Midwest. Courtesy of NDGF

WASHINGTON -- If the U.S. House version of the next farm bill is approved, the Upper Midwest would suffer nation-leading losses in federal funding for working lands conservation, according to a new report.

The House farm bill proposes to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program, or CSP, and fold some of its funding into an another ag conservation program. That would cut a total of about $5 billion in funding over the next 10 years, with the bulk of the loss in the Upper Midwest, according to the report from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Combined, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana would account for $2.65 billion of the total $5 billion reduction.

Minnesota would lose $801 million, the most in the nation. South Dakota would lose $745 million and North Dakota $729 million, second and third most, respectively, in the nation. Montana would lose $379 million, the ninth-largest loss.

The Senate version of the new farm bill - the centerpiece of federal food and ag policy - would retain CSP, according to the sustainable ag group.

Now, the Senate and House are trying to resolve differences in their respective bills.

"As farm bill conferees work to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, it is critical they understand the state-by-state funding implications of the House's proposal to eliminate CSP," Alyssa Charney, senior policy specialist with the sustainable ag group, said in a prepared statement.

"A final conference report must protect the existing toolbox of working lands conservation programs, ensuring that funds are not redistributed to drastically disadvantage so many agricultural states," she said.

A few states, especially California and Texas, would gain CSP funding if the House version is approved. California would see the largest increase, about $525 million over 10 years, with Texas gaining about $202 million over 10 years. Taking those funding increases into account, the total nationwide decline in funding would be $5 billion.

California and Texas would be big gainers because, historically, they've been at the top of the list for allocations in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the program into which some current CSP funding would be folded under the House farm bill, according to the report.

Though the Conservation Reserve Program may be better known, the Conservation Stewardship Program has a bigger role, at least measured by enrolled acres.

Through CSP, ag producers and forest landowners earn payments to actively manage, maintain and expand conservation activities, such as cover crops and buffer strips, while maintaining active ag production on their land. About 70 million acres are enrolled nationwide.

In contrast to CSP, the Conservation Reserve Program gives landowners an annual per-acre payment to take environmentally sensitive farmland out of production. About 22.5 million acres were enrolled in CRP at the end of January, according to online information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.