USDA Pays for Organic Farmer Conservation Buffers
Many organic farmers install conservation buffers strips around the edges of their crop fields. These ‘field border’ buffers provide multiple conservation and environmental benefits, and also help farmers meet U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification requirements, which include protecting soil and water quality and enhancing biodiversity and habitat). In some circumstances, the buffers can also protect organic farms against pesticide or genetic drift from neighboring operations.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) runs a program called the Continuous Sign-up Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP) that provides farmers with rental payments on land set-aside for conservation buffers for a period of 10-15 years. Cost-share payments also made available to help farmers with the financial burden of establishing the buffers.
On Friday, February 26, FSA announced at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) annual conference, the launch of a new conservation option for organic farmers–cost-share and land rental payments for field border buffers through the CCRP. The organic buffer initiative, which aims to establish up to 20,000 acres of new conservation buffers, will begin next month.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), which worked closely with FSA to develop the new initiative, issued press comments following USDA’s announcement.
“We congratulate FSA on the launch of the new organic field border initiative and applaud their commitment to do more outreach to organic farmers. FSA leadership has made the right decision in seeking to tailor these types of programs to the specific needs organic farmers,” said Ferd Hoefner, NSAC Policy Director. “We encourage organic farmers to give this new option careful consideration. This new initiative has the potential to pay real dividends for farm balance sheets and for the environment.”
Through CCRP, FSA pays farmers to install partial field conservation practices, primarily conservation buffers or wildlife habitat. Farmers and landowners may enroll such land at any time rather than waiting for specific sign-up periods. Unlike the general sign-ups that occur under CCRP’s parent program (CRP), there is no bidding and ranking; the land is enrolled automatically if it meets the eligibility criteria.
CCRP eligible practices include: riparian buffers, wildlife habitat buffers, wetland buffers, filter strips, wetland restoration, grass waterways, shelterbelts, windbreaks, living snow fences, contour grass strips, salt tolerant vegetation, and shallow water areas for wildlife.
Under the new organic initiative, farmers are free to use whichever CCRP eligible practice or suite of practices that best suits their particular needs. In most cases, we believe farmers will be most interested in the following practices:
- If a field borders a stream, either the filter strip or the riparian buffer practice will be best suited to that particular border.
- If a farm is located in an area where trees are well suited and high winds a consideration, the windbreak option may be suitable.
- In most other instances, the two practices that are likely to be adaptable as field borders are the pollinator habitat practice or the upland buffers practice.
Each of these five practices is well suited for field borders; each also receives unique CCRP incentive payments, as shown in this chart.
FSA has also indicated that cost-share payments for installing organic field border buffers through the new initiative will be calculated based on the cost of organic seed and plants.
The availability of rental payments via 10 to 15 year contracts on land set-aside as field border buffers should help improve adoption of the conservation practices by making it financially more attractive to organic farmers. We encourage organic farmers to give the new initiative serious consideration.
- For basic information on CRP and CCRP enrollment, see the FSA CRP homepage.
- For extremely detailed information on each of the practices and their requirements, see part three of the FSA CRP Handbook.
- For more background on the CCRP in general, visit our Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs.
- NSAC has also published several blogs that detail CCRP enrollments by practice and by state: “Digging Deeper into Continuous CRP Enrollments” and “49th CRP Sign Up Announced a Continuous CRP Enrollments Hit Record High in 2015”.