The on-again, off-again Conservation Security Program has received a fresh, infusion of funds that USDA officials say will allow them to complete payments on fiscal year 2007 CSP contracts and prepare for a future program sign-up.

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Conservation Security Program’s principal author, said the new funding will also allow USDA to sign up more producers for the CSP in eligible watersheds.

“The Conservation Security Program pays proactive farmers and ranchers for good conservation, and it is important that the USDA continues to enroll new producers and fully honors its commitments to those who are already enrolled in CSP,” Harkin said in a statement.

“Farmers like CSP, they grasp it and they see the vision of it,” added Harkin. “Yet previous spending bills shortchanged the program and prevented it from reaching its full potential.”

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced the availability of the new CSP funding during an appearance at Farm Fest in Redwood County, Minn. The county is located in House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson’s district.

“Through our actions today, the Conservation Security Program will fully realize the promise to recognize and award those producers that demonstrate conservation excellence,” said Johanns “These steps represent a way to bring the past program to completion, and set the stage for the future of CSP, beyond passage of the farm bill.”

Johanns said $35 million is being made available for the completion of payments on fiscal year 2007 CSP contracts. In addition, he said, $2.93 million will be used to help producers and Natural Resources Conservation Service field staff prepare for a future program signup in the 51 watersheds previously identified for FY 2007.

Harkin encouraged producers to take advantage of the “open enrollment” in the Conservation Security Program announced by USDA. The senator has been working with USDA since that time to release the funding and commended Johanns’ action.

“This new funding helps restore confidence in CSP by continuing to enroll new producers and fulfilling all existing obligations under these contracts,” he said. “I thank Secretary Johanns for his willingness to increase investments in conservation and work to get this enrollment accomplished, and I commend him for finding a way to accomplish this given the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30).

Harkin helped pass language in the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act in May that provided funding needed to “fully pay for existing CSP contracts and provide the funds necessary to carry out an enrollment for the already-announced watersheds eligible in 2007.

“Until this bill was passed, providing some $115 million in added funding, money was not available for the 2007 enrollment announced last fall before the new fiscal year began.”

The CSP still faces an uncertain future, however. The farm bill the House passed in July transfers funding that would have gone to the CSP to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program until 2012.

Chairman Peterson has said the House Agriculture Committee believes funding for the EQIP program should be given a higher priority than that for CSP.

A list of the eligible watersheds can be viewed at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/. USDA offers CSP in new watersheds annually on a rotational basis in as many watersheds as funding allows. For more information about CSP, including a map of targeted watersheds and eligibility requirements, please visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp.

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