USDA Sees CSP Costing $9-$10 Billion

The Conservation Security Program (CSP) would cost $9-10 billion a year if offered nationwide, its USDA overseer told lawmakers last week.

According to Reuters News Service, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey gave his estimate on July 27 at a House Agriculture subcommittee review of USDA stewardship programs. Subcommittee chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, asked Rey to repeat if $9-10 billion a year was the proper figure.

"Correct," Rey responded. "That assumes we implement it in the fashion of current legislation."

At that level, CSP spending would be a huge part of the farm program, which already averages $20 billion/year in payments.

The USDA estimate was disputed as vastly too high. Ferd Hoefner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, an activist group, said in an interview with Reuters that the White House and congressional budget offices put the cost at $1 billion a year.

CSP, which pays farmers who make water, land and wildlife conservation a part of their daily operations, has attracted wide interest from farmers and often is cited as a possible new path for U.S. farm supports that would comply with world trade rules.

Congress has raided the CSP funding repeatedly to pay for other programs. As a result, USDA has offered the program in a limited number of watersheds each year.

CSP, created under the 2002 farm law, was allotted $259 million this fiscal year and was offered in only 280 watersheds, a small fraction of U.S. territory. The President’s fiscal year 2007 budget requests $342.2 million for CSP, an increase of $83 million to continue expanding the program.

Rey says 19,200 CSP contracts were in force on 14.6 million acres at an annual average cost of $11,000 although payments range from $500 to $45,000. "Most working agricultural land is eligible for CSP," Rey says.

But Hoefner says most land would not qualify because tracts often have too much soil erosion and runoff of phosphorus and nitrogen. Those thresholds will limit the cost, he says.

Bill Wilson, head of the National Association of Conservation Districts, says CSP has become "an extremely targeted program with complex implementation" that is too much trouble for some growers to pursue.

Dale Schuler, President of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) says the group wanted "all conservation programs, and particularly CSP, adequately funded" and urged removal of barriers to CSP participation, such as the current approach of offering it in a small number of watersheds at a time.

Editors note: Richard Brock, The Corn and Soybean Digest's > Marketing Editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

To see more market perspectives, visit Brock's Web site at

http://www.brockreport.com/brockreport.