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National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture
Conservation Committee Priorities

See the '97 Annual Meeting Overview for details about how NCSA reached consensus on these and other priorities.
  1. Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) & Conservation Farm Option (CFO): The Campaign will work on implementation of the EQIP and CFO programs. Both EQIP and CFO were passed in the 1996 Farm Bill, but will require persistent pressure on USDA for them to be implemented properly.

    For the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the new consolidated conservation cost share program, the focus on the final rule is to prohibit funds to large livestock operations. In addition, more pressure is needed to focus funds on low-tech sustainable practices, and on conservation priority areas. Credible data collection for evaluation of EQIP must also be implemented.

    Funding for the Conservation Farm Option in Appropriations will be a priority. CFO is designed to be a whole farm planning option that addresses multiple resource issues and allows farmers to combine cost-sharing practices, incentive payments, and land retirement payments into one easy check. We need to keep pushing for the request for proposals, then urge good proposals to be submitted.

  2. Clean Water Act (CWA): As Congress attempts to reauthorize the CWA, polluted runoff from agriculture ought to be a top priority, since it is the leading source of water pollution in the country. Impaired watersheds should be targeted first, and all contributing landowners do site-specific plans to reduce runoff. The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, destroyed by an influx of nutrients from the Mississippi watershed, will be part of our education focus.

  3. State Technical Committees: After working to make the newly formed State Technical Committees better able to serve communities, farmers, and the environment, we need better information to compare what's going on and what we should be fighting for. There is a remarkable amount of state and local discretion in implementing CRP and EQIP, so the Campaign will work for a strong presence in each state, help to plan strategies for STC members and facilitate information sharing.

  4. Farmland Protection: The 1996 Farm Bill included a farmland protection program to send funds to successful state programs, but there needs to be assurance of full funding at the authorized levels with no cap. In 1996, 17 states received $15 million to help protect more than 200 farms from development. In addition we want to explore ways to enhance protection from development pressure with a focus on keeping farms profitable.

  5. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) & Wetlands Reserve: These programs were big winners in the farm bill, with language to retain and reform them towards retiring lands that are environmentally vulnerable, while releasing lands that can readily be farmed with good conservation practices. Unfortunately, every step of reform is being met with backsliding. The Campaign will monitor implementation decisions, comment on rules and pressure USDA to meet the intention of Congress in the language of the programs.

  6. Whole Farm Planning: Whole Farm Planning is an integrated, site-specific look at an individual farm that pulls together the multiple environmental goals and economic goals of the farmer. This is not a single program, but an approach to conservation policy that we intend to support in many contexts. Many problems can be solved simultaneously with sustainable farming systems. The Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) is designed to encourage use of whole farm plans; Conservation Farm Option (CFO) is centered on a whole farm plan; the Fund for Rural America could be used to research and demonstrated whole farm planning; and the NRCS pilot program of the last few years needs to be evaluated. The Campaign will press for whole farm planning in implementation of USDA conservation programs and at every level of USDA practice.

  7. Feedlots: The Clean Water Act is failing miserably at controlling pollution from large feedlots. In conjunction with the Clean Water Network, The Campaign will work to build support for a new feedlot bill designed to effectively regulate confined animal feeding operations and level the playing field between radically different state regulations. In addition, there are many possible reforms that EPA could undertake under current law to get a handle on large lagoons, manure spills, and over-application of manure on land.

  8. Compliance/Sodbuster/Swampbuster: These ten-year-old programs require farmers who get commodity payments to control erosion and not drain wetlands. Enforcement was weakened in the 1996 Farm Bill. The Campaign will continue to monitor them and support their implementation. As freedom to farm payments decline over the next seven years, there will be no way to enforce these provisions, unless we get them hooked into revenue insurance and other future commodity programs.

  9. Administrative Action for Clean Water Act: The weakening of Swampbuster sets a very bad precedent for implementation of other wetlands protection laws under the Environmental Protection Agency. As NRCS, EPA and other agencies develop a new memorandum of agreement, strong involvement is needed to make sure that wetlands controls are not weakened.

  10. Wildlife Habitat Incentive Plan: WHIP is a new program that needs good rules to be written and appropriations for implementation to begin. It will send $50 million to help farmers pay for habitat, wetlands, and endangered species protection.

  11. Empowerment Zones: Anecdotal information tells us that under the guise of rural economic development, USDA funds are being used in empowerment zones to subsidize environmentally destructive factory farms and processing plants that undermine sustainable farmers. USDA implementation of empowerment zones needs to be monitored.
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