Feature Story Conservation Security Program; A Participant’s View
Illinois’ Upper Sangamon River Watershed was the location for the 2006 Conservation Security Program (CSP). Two Illinois producers who were accepted into the program comment on CSP and its recognition of conservation stewards of the land. These producers have found success and satisfaction with NRCS’ conservation incentive and technical assistance programs. Their experiences reveal the strengths of current programs and hopes for those in the 2007 Farm Bill.
The Perring Brothers
Steve Perring began farming in DeWitt County with his father after graduating from Parkland College in Champaign. He kept the operation running once his father retired. Steve’s brother, Dave Perring, now helps out in spring and fall and their father stays involved in the operation.
Perring farms about 1,700-1,800 acres and owns 25 of those acres. “I started with no-till beans in the late 80’s and early 90s,” says Perring. “I have a few acres of HEL in no-till corn. The rest are minimum-till corn.” He rotates each year between corn and soybeans. “The reason I went no-till,” claims Perring, “was purely economics. I cut my fuel cost by $5,000 with fewer trips across the field.” Perring enrolled 1,700 acres in the CSP and with his present conservation operation, qualified as a Tier II.
Darren Moser, NRCS District Conservationist in DeWitt County, said, “Steve is one of the innovators in the area when it comes to no-till.” He was one of the first in the area to start a no-till operation. “He has changed the mindset of many of his neighbors over the years,” said Moser.
“When I started, everyone was watching,” says Perring. “After I had some success, some decided to try it on one field, then on the whole farm.” Twin brother Dave agreed and commented that at the coffee shop, everyone would compare their yields. “The others would always be amazed at Steve’s higher yields with no-till,” said Dave Perring. “Soon, you would hear someone say they were going to try it on one of their fields. Then, the next year they would covert more acres to no-till. He really helped convince others that it works.”
Just north in McLean County, Larry Schaefer farms a similar operation. He cash rents 1,300, with 160 acres of his own enrolled in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Larry enjoys hunting deer, pheasants and quail and has recently taken up turkey hunting. He is an active member of the McLean County Pheasants Forever Chapter and he promotes the benefits of establishing wildlife habitats.
“No-till corn doesn’t work well in this part of Illinois,” explains Schaefer. “I use minimum-till corn and no-till beans on a rotation.” Larry’s conservation system includes grass waterways, filter strips, field borders, and a windbreak. He enrolled another 100 acres into CSP last year and qualified in the program at a Tier III.
“With Larry’s well-planned conservation system and the way he runs his operation, he was well qualified for the program. He’s exactly the type of conservationist this program was designed to reach,” says Kent Bohnoff, NRCS District Conservationist in McLean County.
Comments on Federal Programs
Both Moser and Bohnhoff stress the importance of developing a conservation plan. If landowners develop more detailed plans for current and future conservation practices, they are better positioned for CSP and every other type of conservation program. “It’s like anything else you do,” says Moser. “You plan the next activity, follow through, and document the progress. It will be easy to locate all the records needed to support your operational activities.” NRCS confirms that the need for conservation planning and documentation could be even more important with programs in the next Farm Bill.
Both landowners feel the program is aimed at landowners and managers who are doing a good job of protecting resources. “I was real excited when I first heard about the program,” said Schaefer. “I thought it was on target to get something to those who are doing a good job.”
He admits that the application part of CSP is a little rigorous and that it took a lot of time to gather information. “My wife is the record keeper and has everything in the computer,” he said. “Some of the records we needed for CSP were difficult to dig up.” But they found the data and it was a task that has paid off in more ways than one.
Steve Perring’s story is similar. “The booklet and application wasn’t too difficult--a little overwhelming at first until you got in it and really looked closely,” he said. “The time we committed to the application process wasn’t bad considering what I am getting from it. Since most farmers use computers these days, it’s easier to have the information on hand.” Perring confirms that it took some time to locate records he doesn’t normally keep, such as fertilizer records, but he tracked down needed information and submitted a complete application.
The Future of CSP
2006 was the third year for CSP in Illinois. NRCS continues to streamline and fine-tune the process. Making conservation easier is one of the goals of the new Farm Bill and NRCS continues to modify, improve, and streamline programs to better serve the resource base and the conservation-minded farmers these programs reward.
“Farmers want to see more funds allocated to CSP,” said Moser. “And they’d like to see more flexibility when adjustments for issues like weather enter into the ranking equations.” Perring echoes the comments heard from landowners across the country. “I’d like to see flexibility for the already approved contracts,” he said, “where producers have the ability to make needed changes without being penalized. I’d also like to see future funding increased.”
Larry Schaefer hopes to see more funding and flexibility as well. He plans additional enhancements on his farm including planting more native and culturally significant plants. As a second generation farmer, Schaefer wishes his mother could see all the changes he’s made on the land. “She was the true conservationist,” he said.
“Well have to wait and see what the new Farm Bill brings. I hope the conservation title offers more helpful and effective programs, tools, and funds to assist conservation-minded producers here in Illinois and across the nation,” says Moser. “That would meet NRCS’ goal and the goals of our customers, Illinois farmers.”
For more information on NRCS’ conservation programs or proposals of the new Farm Bill, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.
NRCS District Conservationist Darren Moser, left, hands 2006 Participant Steve Perring his CSP sign.
Larry Schaefer believes in conservation on the farm.
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