Call or fax your congressperson today. No, really. Do it.

I know, I know, even we Ethicureans have Farm Bill fatigue, from following the various funding flip-flops and internecine struggles. It doesn't make it any easier when even sustainable agriculture groups we respect disagree on arcane points. But encouraging conservation is one topic that everyone is rallying around, and asking for the support of concerned eaters — yeah, that's you — as well as small farmers, activists, food-justice folks, and basically all Americans concerned about industrial farming's effects on our soil, water, and air. Today is Conservation Call-In Day about the Food and Farm Bill, and we seriously need to get critical mass on at least this important point. The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, along with American Farmland Trust and other national conservation and environment organizations, have all sent out emails asking you to call your senators today (Wednesday, Oct. 17, but hey, if you miss it, you can call up to Oct. 23).

Ask them to provide at least $5 billion more for conservation in the farm bill, including $2 billion for the Comprehensive Stewardship Incentives Program. And if they ask why, tell them because Congress cut twice that amount from the program in the last two years, and it's critical that it be available to farmers in all 50 states to counterbalance, in a tiny way, the siren call of ethanol. And because it's a friggin' drop in the bucket compared to corn subsidies. Add whatever other things are important to you about the Farm Bill — supporting small farmers, funding for organic research, a school-lunch program that isn't a garbage disposal for overproduced commodities — but be sure to make the point that even in this draconian budget climate, they gotta support this piddly amount of funding for conservation.

The American Farmland Trust has set up a page where you can quickly find your senator's office phone number. SAC has a link to a Word document (sigh) with a more complete background on what's at stake and a list of the key senators on the Ag Committee. I've posted it, and those senators' contact info with fax numbers, after the jump.

Call, don't email. From what I've heard, the live, real-time voice of a concerned citizen, trembling with passion and nervousness, has a much bigger impact than a cookiecutter action e-mail.

ACTION ALERT

October 6, 2007

(Posted from this Word document.)

URGE SENATE AGRICULTURE COMMITTEE MEMBERS TO SUPPORT THE COMPREHENSIVE STEWARDSHIP INCENTIVES PROGRAM AND CONSERVATION SECURITY PROGRAM

The Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to begin its markup of the 2007 farm bill on October 23.  Basic funding decisions have been discussed by Senators on the Committee during informal meetings that have already taken place.  In the course of these meetings, it has become increasingly clear that funding for conservation is getting the short end of the stick relative to other sections of the bill.  The funding levels currently being discussed by Committee Members are far lower than what is needed for a decent conservation title.

It is vital at this critical stage of the debate to rally support for increased funding for conservation in general and the Conservation Security Program (CSP) in particular.  The continuing pre-markup jockeying that is underway right now will determine what programs and what reforms will and will not receive consideration and support by the Committee.  

The good news is that Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin’s proposed Conservation Title expands support for working lands conservation policy through a new program that continues, improves and streamlines the CSP while fostering closer coordination between the CSP and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the other major working lands conservation program.  The combination and coordination of the two programs is being referred to as the Comprehensive Stewardship Incentives Program, or CSIP, in the Harkin bill.

Under this new CSIP “umbrella” both EQIP and CSP will be available annually on a nationwide basis.  Like its predecessor, the new CSP program will support farmers who improve and maintain farming systems that provide public benefits including cleaner air and streams, healthy soil, wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and energy conservation.  Unlike the current CSP program, however, it will be regularly available to all producers each year through a continuous sign-up and ranking process.  The coordination of CSP and EQIP through CSIP will result in ‘one-stop shopping’ for farmers and ranchers seeking working lands conservation assistance.

Annual, nationwide availability, however, will only happen if the program is provided adequate funding.  The combined program needs at least $2 billion in new funding over the next five years of the new farm bill in order to serve farmers in all 50 states.  This increase is actually equal to just 40 percent of the $5 billion in funding for CSP and EQIP that Congress has shortsightedly cut from the two programs over the past 4 years.  

Despite the relatively modest request for a $2 billion increase in working lands conservation funding for the next 5 years, many Senators on the Committee have so far been unwilling to support it.  Concerned citizens have until October 23 to convince those Senators that at least $2 billion more funding is needed for working lands conservation so that farmers and ranchers in all parts of the country have a fair opportunity to participate and help protect the environment.

CALL OR FAX TODAY

Time is of the essence.  If your Senator is on the Agriculture Committee (see list of Members and their contact information below) call and ask for their legislative aide that works on agriculture.  If the agriculture aide is available, talk to them about your support for the updated CSP proposal.  If the aide is unavailable, leave a short message of support, along with your name and phone number, on the aide’s voice mail or with the receptionist.

If you prefer to write, fax a brief letter of support, addressed to the Senator, and remember to include your name and address and contact information.   The fax numbers are listed below.

The message is simple.  I am a constituent and am calling to urge Senator _________ to support $2 billion in new funding for the Comprehensive Stewardship Incentives Program (CSIP), including the new and improved Conservation Security Program.  We need an increased commitment to conservation on working lands and an expansion of the CSP program.  Without this increase, the farm bill will be a failure.

Background

The new Comprehensive Stewardship Incentives Program (CSIP) combines the two leading working lands conservation programs – the Conservation Security Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – into an integrated program that improves the conservation benefits and cost effectiveness of each current program.  Farmers will be able to apply at one time for stewardship enhancement payments through the CSP and/or for conservation cost-share through EQIP.  By coordinating the two programs, program delivery will be improved and streamlined.  

The new CSIP will make both of the existing programs available to producers on an annual basis anywhere in the country at any time of year.  Both parts of the integrated program will include conservation ranking criteria to determine which contract offers will be accepted.  Farmers not currently meeting the stewardship threshold for CSP participation will be able to use cost share or incentive payments from EQIP to help reach the higher environmental baseline for CSP participation.  Farmers utilizing resource-conserving crop rotations or managed rotational grazing or other approaches that achieve multiple resource benefits will receive additional ranking points toward CSP participation.  In both EQIP and CSP, producers who can use the assistance to reach higher stewardship levels and solve resource and environmental problems will receive priority.

Under the new CSP part of CSIP there are no tiers or levels of participation, all participants must enroll their entire farming operation, all contracts are for five years, new conservation practices and activities are scheduled during the original enrollment rather than in later year contract modifications, and there is only one type of payment – the stewardship enhancement payment.  Those changes remove nearly all of the complexity of the current CSP structure.

USDA will prescribe stewardship thresholds for all resources of concern and each state will choose priority resources of concern for the different regions within their state.  All participants must be at or above the threshold for at least one priority resource of concern prior to enrollment and must agree to reach or exceed the threshold for all priority resources of concern during the first 5-year contract period.  Contracts may be renewed for new 5-year periods if they have been successfully maintained and if necessary and feasible new conservation activities are added under the new contract.  

An Organic Conversion component is included under the EQIP part of the program to provide funds for technical and financial assistance for transition.  New and existing certified organic farming systems will receive special consideration in the CSP part of the program.

To run the new program effectively and reduce contract proposal rejection rate, the new CSIP proposal requires approximately $2 billion in new funding above baseline levels over the next 5 years, a significant amount but far less than the approximately $5 billion which has be cut from CSP and EQIP during the past 6-year farm bill cycle.  At current funding levels, farmer demand for conservation assistance far outstrips available dollars.  At least partial restoration of funding -- promised to farmers in the last farm bill but cut by Congress and the Administration in the intervening years -- is badly needed to set the programs on a better course for the coming years.

SENATE AGRICULTURE COMMITTEE

Democrats

Member

Staff

Phone

FAX

Tom Harkin (IA) - Chair

Mark Halverson

202-224-3254

202-224-9369

Patrick Leahy (VT)

Brian Baenig

202-224-4242

202-224-3479

Kent Conrad (ND)

John Fuher

202-224-2043

202-224-7776

Max Baucus (MT)

Brandon Willis

202-224-2651

202-224-0515

Blanche Lincoln (AR)

Robert Holifield

202-224-4843

202-228-1371

Debbie Stabenow (MI)

Chris Adamo

202-224-4822

202-228-0325

Ben Nelson (NE)

Jonathan Coppess

202-224-6551

202-228-0012

Ken Salazar (CO)

Brendan McGuire

202-224-5852

202-228-5036

Sherrod Brown (OH)

Joe Shultz

202-224-2315

202-228-6321

Robert Casey, Jr. (PA)

Kasey Gillette

202-224-6324

202-228-0604

Amy Klobuchar (MN)

Hilary Meggin Bolea

202-224-3244

202-228-2186

Republicans

Member

Staff

Phone

FAX

Saxby Chambliss (GA) -  
   Ranking Member

Martha Scott Poindexter

202-224-3521

202-224-0103

Richard Lugar (IN)

Aaron Whitesel

202-224-4814

202-228-0360

Thad Cochran (MS)

West Higginbothom

202-224-5054

202-228-9450

Mitch McConnell (KY)

Allison Thompson

202-224-2541

202-224-2499

Pat Roberts (KS)

Mike Seyfert

202-224-4774

202-224-3514

Lindsey Graham (SC)

Laura Bauld

202-224-5972

202-224-3808

Norman Coleman (MN)

Tony Eberhard

202-224-5641

202-224-1152

Michael Crapo (ID)

Staci Lancaster

202-224-6142

202-228-1375

John Thune (SD)

Brendon Plack

202-224-2321

202-228-5429

Chuck Grassley (IA)

Amanda Taylor

202-224-3744

202-224-6020

One Responseto “Call or fax your congressperson today. No, really. Do it.”

  1. Jack says:

    Side comment: I could have sworn that California has a significant amount of agriculture. But neither of our senators is on this committee. Meanwhile, some states have two. It's not right, I tell you...it's just not right!