If the House farm bill proposal to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program passes, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says 18 states with high-level conservation needs will lose billions in federal funding. According to a new report from the NSAC, agricultural states across the Midwest, Delta, Plains, and the Pacific Northwest would cumulatively lose nearly $7 billion. Only two states, California and Texas, would come away big winners.
“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,” said Alyssa Charney, Senior Policy Speciation with NSAC. “Not only would the House approach cut nearly $5 billion in working lands conservation funding nationally and eliminate the nation’s largest and only comprehensive conservation program, but it would also significantly disadvantage many major agricultural states that depend on working lands conservation assistance. This redistribution of funds at the expense of many agricultural states to benefit but a few states raises significant cause for alarm. 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.”
The House farm bill (H.R. 2) proposes to eliminate CSP, leaving the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) as the only major working lands conservation program going forward. According to House Committee leadership, H.R. 2 would incorporate key pieces of CSP into EQIP by creating a new “stewardship contracts” option; H.R. 2 would also move some, but not all, of CSP’s current funding into EQIP. Even with the additional funding for EQIP, however, the stewardship contracts approach will not even come close to making up for the significant suite of activities that CSP currently supports. Additionally, working lands conservation programming writ large would experience a net $5 billion loss over the ten years under the House farm bill.
Farmers won’t be the only ones affected by this potential cutting and redistributing of funds, however. A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows that in addition to the direct loss of conservation funds, eliminating CSP will result in billions more in lost return on investment (ROI) to taxpayers.
According to UCS, every dollar of taxpayer money invested into CSP generates roughly $3.95 in returned value. This value is notably higher than ROIs estimated for other conservation programs thanks to CSP’s holistic approach and synergistic benefits that maximize returns. Applying this ROI to the total conservation funding that would be lost if CSP was eliminated, UCS estimates that Americans would lose benefits of roughly $4.7 billion dollars per year. These are costs that would be widely borne, and include: increased input costs for farmers, increased environmental degradation, and potential food security risks stemming from a reduced ability to adapt to a changing climate.
CSP is an acreage-based program that comprehensively tackles resource concerns on land in production, and therefore a major component of its allocation formula is the amount of agricultural land in a given state. EQIP provides assistance for individual conservation practices, and thus the allocation formula considers a wider range of factors. Adopting the EQIP funding structure (with CSP eliminated) as the only option for conservation funding would significantly disadvantage states with large acres planted to field crops, and areas where conservation funds are in high demand to prevent or reverse nutrient loss – such as the state of Georgia.
“The House proposal attempts to disguise a massive and unbalanced redistribution of conservation funds as a simple “merging” of programs,” said Charney. “As our report shows, the elimination of CSP will create far more losers than winners – including many states represented by those on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. Conferees should be alarmed at the potential implications of H.R. 2, and should stand up for the farmers and ranchers in their states who depend on working lands conservation assistance. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition urges all farm bill conferees to protect working lands conservation programs in the 2018 Farm Bill and by extension to protect American producers and all those who benefit from our shared natural resources.”