Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin says Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns confirmed that funding in a supplemental appropriations bill passed by Congress will be used for enrolling more farmers in the Conservation Security Program and increasing payments under certain existing CSP contracts.

The fact that Harkin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, felt he needed to announce Johanns pledge speaks volumes about the problems the program Harkin included in the 2002 farm bill has encountered in recent years.

Although Harkin envisioned a national program when he devised the CSP, USDA decided to launch it as a pilot program confined to selected watersheds. Since then, the House Republican leadership transferred some CSP funding to other agricultural programs.

“The Conservation Security Program pays proactive farmers and ranchers for good conservation, and it is important that the USDA continues to enroll new producers and fully honors its commitments to those who are already enrolled in CSP,” said Harkin.

“Farmers like CSP, they grasp it and they see the vision of it. Yet previous spending bills shortchanged the program and prevented it from reaching its full potential,” he said. “This new funding helps restore confidence in CSP by continuing to enroll new producers and fulfilling all existing obligations under these contracts.

“I thank Secretary Johanns for his willingness to increase investments in conservation and work to get this enrollment accomplished.”

Harkin led efforts to include funding in the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act to pay for all existing CSP contracts.

The latter includes contract modifications and the funds necessary to carry out an enrollment for the previously announced watersheds eligible in 2007. “Until this bill was passed, providing some $115 million in added funding, money was not available for the 2007 enrollment announced last fall before the new fiscal year began,” he noted.

Harkin’s problems with the Conservation Security Program have not been confined to USDA. The House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy and Rural Development recently voted to delay the awarding of future CSP contracts until 2012.

Although the language in the Conservation Title of the 2007 farm bill is subject to review by the full committee, Harkin criticized the subcommittee for delaying future signups and transferring more than $1 billion in CSP funding to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to complete work on its version of the 2007 farm bill after Congress’ July 4 recess. Harkin has said he expects the Senate Agriculture Committee to begin formally drafting its farm bill in July.

e-mail: flaws@farmpress.com