New Resource for Conservation Stewardship Program Applicants
February 5, 2018
Photo Credit: USDA
The deadline for those interested in the 2018 Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the nation’s largest conservation program, is less than one month away. CSP is a valuable resource for farmers, ranchers, and forest owners interested in increasing the sustainability and long-term profitability of their lands. More than 72 million acres of farmland, ranchland, and forestland are currently enrolled nationwide. (For a detailed analysis of the most recent enrollment data, see NSAC’s recently published CSP Special Report.)
In order to ensure that interested farmers and ranchers have all the information and resources they need to successfully apply for CSP, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released its CSP 2018 Information Alert, which includes step-by-step guidance and enrollment information.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced March 2, 2018 as the submission deadline for those applying for the 2018 enrollment opportunity. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which administers the program, is set to enroll 10 million new acres this year. Farmers and ranchers who enrolled in 2014 will also be able to re-enroll for an additional 5-year contract. NSAC will provide updated materials when the renewals deadline and additional information is made available.
Throughout the coming weeks, farmers and ranchers will be taking time out of their busy schedules to determine if conservation programs like CSP are right for their operations. NSAC’s Information Alerts are a free online resource that help producers stay up to date on all the latest program information and deadlines so that conservation is an easy choice to make. The only thing a farmer needs to submit by the March 2 deadline is an initial basic application that is used for all NRCS conservation programs. If selected, applicants will work closely with NRCS on the details of their contract for the years that follow.
Reinvented Tools, Resources, and Provisions Explained
As part of last year’s sign-up, NRCS rolled out major changes to CSP as part of a comprehensive program “reinvention.” Although NRCS began implementing these changes last year, interested producers may still be unaware of the updates and how they may affect their application and/or contracts. The Information Alert includes details on all changes that were made as part of the 2017 CSP reinvention, including the following provisions:
- New eligibility tool – A significant component of the 2017 reinvention was the shift away from the Conservation Measure Tool (CMT) to the Conservation Activity Evaluation Tool (CAET) to determine if applicants are meeting CSP’s minimum stewardship threshold requirements. Based on an applicant’s current level of stewardship, CAET identifies conservation activities that could be adopted to address additional resource concerns.
- New ranking tool – Instead of replacing the CMT with only one new tool, NRCS created three: a new evaluation tool (CAET), ranking tool (the Application, Evaluation, and Ranking Tool (AERT)), and payment schedule. The CSP AERT is a variation on the AERT that is already used within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This tool will be used to rank eligible applications within local ranking pools; the highest scoring applications will receive contract offers first.
- Continuation of the minimum contract payment – Beginning in 2016, USDA set the minimum contract payment for all successful applicants at $1,500 per year, a change NSAC has long advocated for. The $1,500 minimum is available to all farmers, which helps to ensure that the program properly incentives and supports all size operations in participation. The minimum payment limit applies to all new contracts enrolled in 2018, as well as expiring contracts that will renew in 2018.
- Added flexibility for mid-contract changes – Beginning last year, NRCS provides added flexibility for mid-contract modifications. This applies to conservation practice or enhancement changes that might occur due to changing markets or to reflect how the land responds to newly added conservation, as well as to circumstances wherein a producer loses a lease and must subtract land from their CSP contract.
- Expanded options for enhancements, practices, and bundles – The list of conservation activities for 2018 includes a total of 223 individual conservation enhancements, 78 conservation practices, and 35 bundles (suites of enhancements) that are eligible for CSP. The 2017 reinvention created a direct linkage between conservation practices and enhancements, assigning new enhancement codes that link the base practice to the purpose being addressed. NSAC’s CSP Information Alert includes a detailed illustration of how the new enhancements and bundles were restructured and renamed.
- Redesigned payment structure – A major component of the 2017 reinvention was the restructuring of how CSP payments are determined – including annual payments for improving, maintaining, and managing existing operations and installing and adopting additional conservation activities. Annual payments will be determined by the following components: maintenance (existing activity) payments, additional activity payments, and supplemental payments for resource conserving crop rotations, all of which are described in detail in the Information Alert.
Less than One Month to Sign up in 2018
NSAC encourages farmers and ranchers to submit an initial application for CSP by the March 2 deadline. The 2018 CSP Information Alert, as well as NSAC’s Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, provide valuable support and resources to ensure participants have what they need to submit a successful application. We will continue to provide updates on the renewals process as well as any additional information on the sign up as it becomes available.
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