Popular USDA conservation programs are underfunded and oversubscribed, according to a USDA witness before the Senate Agriculture Committee, which held its latest farm bill hearing Thursday.
It’s no secret USDA conservation and working lands programs are popular. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Regional Conservation Partnership, and other programs helping producers’ bottom-line – as well as the environment – can have long waiting lists.
But the extent by which demand exceeds contracts is eye opening, especially after the 2014 Farm Bill cut $6 billion from the programs over 10-years.
“These programs are greatly oversubscribed,” National Resources Conservation Service Deputy Chief of Programs Jimmy Bramblett said. “For example, with CSP we saw a 30% increase in applications this year. That means we’ll have almost 19,000 applications with the program, and we anticipate we’re only going to be able to fulfill 6,500 of those.”
Bramblett then pointed to an example in the ranking Ag member’s home state of Michigan.
“For EQIP in your home-state, there was 17,045 applications last year, which we were only able to fill 946 of them,” Bramblett said. “So, a two-to-one backlog there.”
…And as much as five or six-to-one, in other states.
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program for sediment and nutrient management has $200 million this year. Producer proposals seek some $640 million. And, Bramblett told Ag Senators easement programs face a six-and-a-half-to-one backlog. He says the demand for conservation dollars speaks to the profitability the programs add to farming.