Conservation program timeline is uncertain

Jonathan Knutson
Forum News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If you have questions about the timeline for applying for federal conservation programs under the new U.S. farm bill, signed into law in late 2018, you’re not alone. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition does, too.

But the Washington, D.C.-based coalition, a grassroots alliance that advocates for sustainability of ag, natural resources and rural communities, has a few ideas, based on what happened after the 2014 Farm Bill was approved.

“Assuming a similar timetable, we would anticipate that interim rules for EQIP and CSP (two major conservation programs) would be released later this year,” possibly about 10 months after the 2018 Farm Bill was approved, according to the coalition’s website.

Though the farm bill has been approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still needs to go through the rule-making and processing period — a process slowed by the recent partial federal government shutdown.

Much of the interest in conservation circles focuses on EQIP and CSP.

EQIP, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, focuses on specific conservation practices with a one-time cost-sharing arrangement.

CSP, the Conservation Stewardship Program, helps farmers implement comprehensive stewardship systems on their land.

EQIP and CSP, which the coalition described as the farm bill’s “two core working land conservation programs,” are complementary but have fundamentally different approaches in promoting conservation and targeted support and funding to farmers, the coalition said.

The new farm bill made a number of changes for both EQIP and CSP. The EQIP changes include irrigation district eligibility and improvements in the advanced payment option. The CSP changes include a grassland conservation initiative and a transition from an acreage-based program to a dollar-based program.

Farmers and others with a stake in federal conservation programs will have the opportunity to offer input during USDA’s rule-making process, the coalition said, adding it will publicize those opportunities when available.

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