Posted March 23,
Editor’s Note: Francis Thicke
-- with Susan, his wife and business partner -- operates Radiance
Dairy near Fairfield, Iowa. They use the only on-farm dairy
processing facility in Iowa to create yogurt, cheese and bottled
milk from their 65-head Jersey herd. Marketing is done locally
to an intensely loyal following of customers. The rotational-grazing
based farm is managed organically to improve soil life as
well as plant and livestock diversity.
Francis Thicke presented these comments at the USDA Listening
Session in Des Moines, Iowa on February 11, 2004.
My Name is Francis Thicke.
I am an organic dairy farmer from Fairfield, Iowa.
Many people today have detailed a variety of specific problems
with the rule proposed by USDA for implementation of the Conservation
Security Act (CSP). I would like to spend my allotted time
talking about the process of how we got to this point, and
look at the bigger picture of how this fits into USDA policy.
I have worked for USDA in Washington, D.C. in the past, and
have helped write rules for USDA conservation programs. When
I look at the proposed rules for CSP I don’t recognize
the spirit of the conservation-minded folks at the Natural
Resources Conservation Service. What I see is the shadow of
USDA’s big brother: the White House’s Office of
Management and Budget (OMB).
There is no doubt in my mind that OMB is responsible for
the cap on the budget for CSP. The budget cap is the one big
domino that knocked down all the other dominos that have collectively
imploded CSP: targeted watersheds, enrollment categories,
miniscule payments for conservation practices, and all the
other items in the proposed rule that serve to limit farmer
participation in CSP.
Unfortunately, OMB operates in the shadows of government
and would never send a representative to a listening session
like today’s. Since we have no OMB budget examiner here
today to voice our concerns to, we will have to work extra
hard to convince you, the USDA panel, to take our message
back to OMB so we can get this budget cap lifted and the rule
How is it that this administration thinks it has the authority
to change the law? Congress has specifically mandated that
CSP is an uncapped, open-enrollment program. A quick review
of junior-high-school civics tells us that there are three
branches of government. The Congressional branch makes the
law and the Executive branch enforces the law. By arbitrarily
placing a budget cap on CSP, USDA is violating the letter
of the law and attempting to rewrite the 2002 Farm Bill. This
administration may be on course for an appointment with the
third branch of government: the federal court system.
It is interesting to note that the USDA crop-subsidy program
is also an open-enrollment program—open to any qualified
farmer who signs up. Yet USDA has not proposed a budget cap
on crop subsidies. Rather, USDA estimates that crop subsidies
will cost $12.6 billion next year--but it has budgeted only
1.6% of that amount for CSP.
What do we get in return for investment in crop subsidies
instead of conservation security? Crop subsidies in Iowa are
targeted to monoculture production of erosive row crops, and
have served to exacerbate our resource problems. Poor nutrient
management on subsidized crops has brought Des Moines the
dubious distinction of needing the largest nitrate-removal
equipment in the world to remove fertilizer nitrate from its
drinking water. The hypoxic zone the size of the state of
Massachusetts, in the Gulf of Mexico, is another legacy of
the contribution of crop-subsidy programs to environmental
By contrast, CSP is designed to provide incentives for farmers
to adopt stewardship practices that protect resources. At
the third tier of participation, farmers enrolled in CSP are
expected to protect all resources of concern from degradation.
Compared to crop subsidies, CSP payments are tailored for
moderate-sized family farms. At the highest level of resource
protection, a farmer is limited to a payment of $45,000 per
year. By contrast, 71% of the $80 billion paid for crop subsidies
over eight years went to 10% of the recipients. In Iowa, the
top recipient received nearly $2.5 million.
The Conservation Security Program was created by visionary
thinkers with the promise that it could transition us to a
new era in farm policy: from supporting resource depletion
to supporting resource conservation, from supporting “bigger
is better” to supporting family farms.
Who is going to be our champion? Who among you on the USDA
panel today is going to go back to Washington and stand up
to the dictates of OMB? We need your support. Will you help
us transition to a conservation farm policy, or will you let
this administration backslide to business as usual?
We think it is time to begin supporting people and the environment
instead of corn and soybeans. We hope you agree.
Editor's Note: The USDA is currently
reviewing a petition to redraft the original rules issued
for the Conservation Sercurity Program to take advantage of
the uncapped status of the program.