Evaluating the Conservation Security Program utilizing the perceptions and economics of producer participation: implications for land stewardship in Iowa agriculture

Reich, Denis
Major Professor
James Kliebenstein
Committee Member
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Agriculture in the United States (US) has been the focus of a number of studies that address the link between on-farm agricultural practices and the degradation of natural resources. The mounting body of evidence that associates certain cropping and grazing practices with soil and waterway damage points to a need for federal agricultural policy to provide improved conservation incentives for agricultural producers. This study focuses on the first two years of the Conservation Security Program (CSP) in Iowa, a watershed based conservation program introduced with the 2002 Federal Farm Act. This new "green payment" program emphasizes "rewarding the best" stewards of natural resources and "attracting the rest" via reward payments and cost share incentives.;Previous studies of the CSP have been performed in a number of agricultural regions of the US including the Midwest corn belt. All have typically utilized only one research method such as interviews, focus groups, case studies or in-depth examinations of program spending. While collectively these studies have established the promise of the program as well as its limitations, this study provides a thorough examination of the CSP's implemnetation in Iowa, using an approach that combines a statisitically representative mail survey of producers in the state's first four CSP watersheds with 13 in-depth interviews in a complimentary manner.;Results are consistent with the findings of other studies, suggesting that the CSP is rewarding the "status quo" of corn, and soybean crop production in the state with little incentive for producers who have not invested previously in stewardship to improve their standards of conservation. There appears to be little to distinguish among CSP enrollees as program participants were found to be relatively homogeneous, with many already receiving payments through other conservation programs. CSP payments were found to be unevenly distributed among producers, with some probably being over compensated for the costs of their conservation which threatens program compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) "green box" rules.;Rewarding producers for practices already in place is not lost on long term stewards, as enrollment in traditional conservation programs has typically allocated the highest payments to those practicing the least conservation. With the 2007 Farm Bill in mind, the effectiveness of the CSP at promoting and preserving natural resources could be greatly improved by capitalizing on the current period of high commodity prices by redirecting savings from Loan Deficiency and Counter-Cyclical payments into simplifying the CSP exclusively as a reward program for proven stewards. Additionally, conservation compliance for commodity programs should be improved and enforced so that the environmental benefits of producers practicing "land stewardship" is not undermined by producers unwilling to maintain conservation minimums. Promoting the CSP exclusively as a reward program should provide the needed incentive for unproven land stewards to take advantage of costshare programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to transition to higher levels of stewardship, increasing the overall acreage of conservation treatment in Iowa and reducing the total area of environmentally damaging practices.