Many peanut farmers may already be in compliance with a new conservation program included in the Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.
The Peanut Environmental Resource Stewardship program, part of the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) under the conservation title, “could reward farmers for practices they are already doing,” said Stanley Fletcher, University of Georgia Extension economist, during a seminar at the Southern Peanut Growers Conference in Panama City, Fla.
The program will allow peanut farmers (other crop producers as well) to bid into the program, based on rotation programs with peanuts. “This program will reward producers who adopt conservation through beneficial crop rotation, as appropriate,” Fletcher said. Benefits will be tied to land “controlled by the producer.”
Fletcher said the program is “trade complaint and an allowable domestic support program. It fits in the Green Box.”
Producers benefit in several ways. “With better rotation they get increased yields and higher quality. They also use fewer chemicals because they will have less disease pressure.”
They also benefit from conservation payments on accepted contracts.
He said consumers benefit from reduced chemical use and improved soils.
“This program comes under the conservation title, said Allen McCorvey, research coordinator, National Center for Peanut Competitiveness at Tifton, Ga. “Payments go to producers who adopt resource conserving crop rotation programs, as determined by the secretary of agriculture.”
The program was included in the farm bill, but “rules and regulations are not written yet,” McCorvey said.
The program includes a $200,000 payment limit per person or legal entity during a five-year contract. Land in other conservation programs is excluded. Land must have been planted or considered planted in three of the past five years before the contract. “It's an optional program,” McCorvey said.
He said the secretary of agriculture has set up a transition team to write rules and regulations that will spell out how the program will work. He expects it to take a few years to get the bugs out. He compares it to the Conservation Reserve Program.
“The Conservation Reserve Program did not occur over night,” he said. “It evolved. But the peanut industry will work with USDA/NRCS to develop and implement the CSP rotation program to make it beneficial to peanut producers.”
McCorvey said producers will need to look closely at crop mix history and project income variance with rotation that complies with the program. “They need to project income mix for the next five years,” he said.
Then they need to project the difference in income if they participate in the program and determine the difference. If switching non-irrigated peanut acreage to non-irrigated cotton, for instance, shows a $33,000 per year income loss, a producer can assess what he needs to bid to receive payments to offset the reduction.
Some farm situations will not benefit from the rotation program.
McCorvey said the program is a rotation program and other conservation practices may not be included in final regulations. “We still have a lot to do to get the regulations done,” he said.
“And we will see an evolution as farmers learn how to use this program.”
Other crops in other regions also may participate. Some growers suggested that the regional bid process might favor Midwestern producers over Southern farmers. “It could be hard for Southeastern farmers to see benefits,” said Ben Bowden, an Alabama peanut producer.”
“Farmers are already doing a good job (with conservation),” Fletcher said. He said he had never seen a “change this drastic put into a farm bill in such a timely fashion. It sets a precedent for future farm programs.”