In its continued efforts to advocate for increasing access to conservation programs, the Center for Rural Affairs is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to move more funds into the hands of farmers and ranchers.
In a recent letter to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the center addressed its management of carryover, or unspent fund reserves, asking the agency to prioritize releasing more of these funds for use in contracts.
Anna Johnson, policy manager for the center, said this is a particularly concerning issue with the Conservation Stewardship Program. NRCS ended 2021 with more than $178 million in carryover funding for CSP. NRCS also ended 2021 with more than 33,000 CSP applications on the books — only 7,204 of which were funded and nearly 16,000 potentially still eligible for consideration.
“During times of inflation, farmers and ranchers are looking at tough financial decisions, and may need to forego planned conservation activities without USDA support,” Johnson said. “We are urging USDA to reconsider their total CSP carryover figure and move more of these funds into contracts with farmers and ranchers.”
Johnson said releasing some of the carryover funding could help reduce the application backlog.
USDA’s public budget documents indicate their 2023 plan is to reserve $504 million in unspent carryover funding across all conservation programs, reserving it for the technical conservation assistance that allows farmers and ranchers to enroll in USDA conservation programs.
While the center is a strong, longtime supporter of robust funding for NRCS technical assistance, we are urging USDA to reassess total carryover funding levels and take prompt action to support more farmers and ranchers in accessing conservation programs.