March 6, 2012
Farmers and Ranchers who applied for enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for fiscal year (FY) 2012 can now determine how many points the various conservation activities offered under the program will be worth. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which implements the program, uses these point values to determine how each applicant ranks compared to other applicants and how much they will get paid under their CSP contract.
The chart lists the activities from highest scoring to lowest scoring. NRCS does not provide this ranked-order information on its website but NSAC makes it available each year as soon as NRCS publishes the underlying data.
Among the top ranking activities are cover cropping, no-till, managed intensive rotational grazing, resource-conserving crop rotations, expansion of conservation buffers, and supplying nutrients from on-farm sources.
The NSAC document also defines a number of key terms that are important to those enrolling in the program. These include conservation enhancements, conservation practices, baseline activities, and point values.
The first phase of the FY 2012 CSP sign up ended on January 27. Producers had to submit an initial application form by this date in order to compete for a spot in the 2012 enrollment class. Those who met this initial deadline should now be sitting down with their local NRCS staff person to fill out the Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT), which is used to determine program eligibility, environmental benefits ranking, and payment amounts.
The list of environmental benefit scores will be particularly relevant for those producers who were able to meet this initial deadline. Farmers applied to enroll more than 19 million acres this year; due to funding cuts, however, only 10 million acres will be available rather than the usual 12.8 million acres. Producers will want to do everything they can to increase their level of stewardship and therefore their ranking score.
The scores on new enhancements and practices to be added as part of a CSP contract are the major portion of the total score. Producers also receive points, however, for existing conservation activities on their farm or ranch which they agree to maintain, improve, and actively management during the contract period. CSP contracts are for five years.
NRCS will finish the ranking process this spring. Farmers and ranchers with the highest environmental benefits scores on the CMT will be chosen for enrollment. NRCS will then schedule on-farm verification visits and develop a CSP plan and contract for each enrollee. The first annual payments for five-year contracts awarded in this round will be made on or after October 1, 2012 and then every October 1 thereafter.
The list of conservation enhancements and conservation practices available for the 2012 sign-up includes 37 regular conservation practices, four more practices than were available in 2011. The 2012 sign-up also includes a total of 68 individual conservation enhancements, down from 94 in 2011. Sixty of these enhancements were offered in roughly the same form in 2011; however, eight enhancements were consolidated into four, and another four are entirely new. NRCS discontinued 34 of the enhancements that it offered in 2011.
For a full list of changes made to the list of conservation activities in FY 2012, see our earlier information alert concerning the sign up.
You can read more about how the program works in our Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program.