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Contemplating Conservation

By Jimmy Webb
Producer/Leary, Ga

The National Cotton Council always has worked with Congress and the Administration to see that conservation programs work for cotton producers. That includes helping develop farm policy, fighting budget battles on Capitol Hill and providing input on USDA’s program administration.

Why should the industry pay more attention to conservation programs?

Of the total 2008 farm bill expenditures, nine and a half percent was designated for commodity programs and seven percent for conservation programs. With more conservation funds available, it makes economic sense to look at these programs. Besides, many cotton producers are now employing practices that would make them eligible to receive financial assistance when utilizing these programs. I believe we should educate ourselves on these programs so we can maximize our on-farm/environmental improvements and operational investment. We need to establish the type of relationships with our local Natural Resource Conservation Service personnel that we have with our Farm Service Agency offices.

Why did the NCC’s Conservation Task Force recently meet?

That task force met primarily to bring its members up to date on 2008 farm law changes affecting conservation programs and to discuss ways producers can improve their eligibility and acceptance into these programs. The NCC already had submitted comments to USDA on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program – efforts of vital interest in the Cotton Belt, so this was an opportune time to review how these will now work. NCC staff and the task force also reviewed the new Conservation Stewardship Program’s proposed regulations. In addition, the task force discussed approaches for educational outreach, which will include seminars highlighting specific conservation programs and ways producers can improve their probability of acceptance. Following the seminars, educational materials will be available on the NCC’s Web site, and there are plans underway to conduct conservation workshops at the 2010 Beltwide Cotton Conferences.

What are the Conservation Stewardship Program’s key provisions?

In the 2002 farm law, Congress created the Conservation Security Program (CSP). The new Conservation Stewardship Program is based on the original CSP but with a major overhaul. The new CSP will be a nationwide program, as opposed to the watershed approach used in the original CSP. In addition, Congress authorized the signup of more than 12 million acres per year. The new CSP seeks to financially assist producers by offering a payment for continuation and maintenance of current conservation programs on their operation as well as the installation of new conservation programs over the CSP contract’s five-year life.

There are, however, some concerns in the new CSP’s proposed rule. The NCC currently is scrutinizing the proposed regulation and intends to present the task force with detailed comments in mid-September. I plan to reconvene the task force by conference call to review these comments prior to USDA’s Sept. 28 deadline. In the meantime, the NCC continues to make producers aware of the current CSP sign-up that runs through Sept. 30.

James L. “Jimmy” Webb is a Leary, Ga., cotton producer and chairman of the NCC’s Conservation Task Force. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming page.

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