November 29, 2016
This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a complete “reinvention” of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the nation’s largest working lands conservation program. While some essential details of the reinvention have yet to be announced by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), it is important that interested farmers and ranchers submit their initial applications by February 3, 2017 to be considered for assistance next year.
CSP is designed to support farmers and ranchers as they actively manage and expand conservation activities on their agricultural land. More than 70 million acres are already enrolled in the program; this year NRCS is authorized to enroll 10 million new acres and to renew up to 12.8 million acres that are under five-year contracts that expire at the end of the fiscal year.
Submitting the initial CSP application is easy. It consists of a simple form that asks for information regarding land ownership, type of production, and contact information. Although farmers can sign up for CSP anytime throughout the year, those who miss the February 3 deadline will not be considered for the program until 2018.
This year, outreach to potential applicants will be particularly important, given the significant changes the program has undergone. NSAC and its 117 member organizations support farmers and ranchers nationwide in their efforts to apply for and participate in CSP.
NRCS undertook the CSP reinvention with the intent of making the program more transparent, flexible, and farmer-friendly. Though NSAC does not support all of the changes made by NRCS, if the goals of increased transparency and flexibility are to be met, it will be critical at a minimum to ensure that potential participants are well aware of the CSP opportunities and application process.
Information Alert and Farmers’ Guide Available
In order to support farmers as they consider applications to this year’s redesigned version of CSP, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released a CSP 2017 Information Alert and an updated version of our Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program. These resources provide the step-by-step sign-up and enrollment information producers need to easily access and benefit from CSP.
The next two months are critical for farmers and ranchers interested in obtaining support for conservation activities on their lands. They will need this time to get up to speed on the program reinvention details and make an assessment about whether the program is right for them and, if so, they must then submit their initial application before February 3, 2017.
Each year NSAC provides free online resources and analysis so that farmers and ranchers can be as informed as possible prior to submitting their initial applications, recognizing that they will need to work closely with NRCS on the details of their contract in the months that follow.
In previous years, the initial application deadline for new contracts has coincided with the deadline for participants whose expiring contracts are set to expire the following year. This year, however, participants who originally enrolled in CSP in 2013 will have a separate deadline by which they need to submit an application indicating their intent to renew for an additional 5-year contract. NRCS has not yet announced the deadline for renewals, but we expect it to be in early spring. NSAC will update and provide additional resources when this information becomes available.
Updated Tools, Resources, and Provisions Explained
NSAC’s 2017 CSP Information Alert includes step-by-step sign-up and enrollment details. The alert also walks farmers through the new changes to the program, including the following updated tools, resources, and provisions:
Additional Details Still Needed
While the updates to CSP have been a long time coming, this sign-up window is the first time that potential applicants will be able to access the details of the reinvention. NRCS has posted several tools and the revised conservation activity options online for farmers, but there remain many important additional details that have yet to be made public.
NSAC continues to urge NRCS to make all details of the redesigned program available to applicants well before the February 3 deadline. Reviewing the restructured payments, as well as being able to see and understand the new eligibility and ranking tools will be critical to potential participants’ ability to make informed decisions about their CSP applications.
With the complete release of the reinvention details still pending, NSAC’s CSP Information Alert and Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program are available for free online as tools to help farmers determine if CSP is right for them. NSAC’s detailed Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program includes enrollment guidance, key definitions, explanations of the ranking and payment system, and helpful hints for accessing the program. We will continue to provide updates as additional details, including payment schedules and public versions of the eligibility tool, become available.