WASHINGTON – The Conservation Security Program finally appears to be moving to the Deep South.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced USDA has selected 202 more watersheds for participation in the fiscal year 2005 Conservation Security Program. Sign-up for the 2005 CSP will be held this winter.
In the 2004 sign-up conducted last summer, the southernmost watershed was located in the Missouri Bootheel. USDA officials said they were limited in the number of eligible watersheds because of funding.
The new program includes watersheds in northeast Arkansas, south Louisiana, south Mississippi and central and west Tennessee. Nationwide the expanded program is expected to cover about one-eighth of total U.S. crop acres.
“This voluntary program supports ongoing stewardship of working agricultural lands by providing payments for maintaining and enhancing natural resources," Veneman said in a press release announcing the new sign-up. "Resource conservation improves water, air and soil quality, gives us healthier landscapes and promotes wildlife habitat."
- The Arkansas watersheds: The Lower White-Bayou Des Arc area, which includes an estimated 1,367 farms and 438,457 acres in farmland; the lower St. Francis, 2,475 farms and 1.65 million acres; and the Cadron, 1,241 farms and 222,503 acres, for a total of 5,083 eligible farms and 2.3 million acres.
- Louisiana: The Mermentau headwaters, 1,398 farms and 431,278 acres; and the Vermillion, 1,274 farms and 277,326 acres, for a total of 2,672 farms and 708,604 acres.
- Missouri Bootheel: New Madrid-St. Johns, 515 farms and 415,181 acres.
- Mississippi: Lower Big Black, 1,769 farms and 485,813 acres; the Mississippi Coastal, 1,248 farms and 125,577 acres; and the Pascagoula, 542 farms and 51,036 acres, for a total of 3,559 farms and 662,426 acres.
- Tennessee, the watersheds are the Loosahatchie River, 855 farms and 203,868 acres; and the Stones River, 3,014 farms and 319,338 acres, for a total of 3,869 farms and 523,206 acres.
A sign-up announcement will be published along with the final rule that will detail specific program requirements in the watersheds. The program will be offered each year on a rotational basis in as many watersheds as funding allows.
The funds that will be dedicated to CSP are part of the $1.6 billion in mandatory funding that Veneman announced last week to help farmers and ranchers better plan their conservation efforts. USDA released these funds to help farmers and ranchers better plan their conservation efforts by knowing the initial mandatory program funding and technical assistance levels well before the next planting season begins, thus helping to connect their business decisions to protecting water, air, soil and wildlife.
CSP is the first USDA conservation program to provide a forward looking focus on stewardship activities and payments to farmers and ranchers for long-term conservation benefits. Typically, conservation programs provide a cost-share approach to fix problems like soil erosion and water quality concerns.
In the three-tiered program, payments are based in part on the degree to which farmers are already implementing conservation as well as their willingness to undertake additional environmental enhancements. In 2004, contracts ranged from a few hundred dollars annually to several thousand, with the average contract in 2004 being approximately $9,500.
While evidence of already applied practices that protect soil and water quality are the price of admission, farmers will also have the option to enhance both the environment and their level of payment by agreeing to additional practices. In 2004, producers showed significant interest in additional conservation activities that help them improve wildlife habitat, air quality, nutrient or pest management, as well as on-farm energy management.
NRCS will offer workshops in the selected watersheds to more fully explain the program to interested potential participants.
Additional information on CSP, including a map of the fiscal year 2005 watersheds and eligibility requirements, is on the Web at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp.