"CSP was designed to 'reward the best and motivate the rest.' While eligibility requirements draw a bold line between "the best" and "the rest," the reality is that it is often difficult to make a clear distinction," comments Merrigan. "Certainly CSP participants are using advanced conservation practices. But some farms are deemed ineligible despite significant conservation practices. In some cases, this is due to program quirks."
"Many of the challenges I have identified with the program are a function of insufficient funding that has led to rules that deviate from the original statute and contorted bureaucratic efforts to distribute limited resources," concludes Merrigan. "However, there is an opportunity to increase CSP effectiveness through greater funding allocations, administrative adjustments, and statutory change." Merrigan urges the committee to "be optimistic about the future of the CSP, to undertake a renewed effort to strengthen the innovative program, and to provide it with full funding."
The Friedman School research team previously presented findings in a report entitled "The Conservation Security Program: Rewards and Challenges for New England Farmers." The report is based on eight case studies of real or hypothetical CSP contracts that represent typical New England farm types and crops, including dairy, cranberry, apple, and organic and conventional vegetable farms. Merrigan, and graduate students at the Friedman School, conducted the study in collaboration with the American Farmland Trust.