June 16, 2014
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation (NRCS) will begin accepting applications to re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) on July 11, 2014. This renewal option is specifically for farmers and ranchers who enrolled in CSP initially in 2010.
CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program that provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to actively manage and maintain existing conservation systems and to implement additional conservation activities on land in production. Through CSP, participants take steps to improve soil, water, air, and habitat quality, and can also address water quantity and energy conservation issues.
CSP contracts last for five years, at which time they are eligible for renewal. There are approximately 20,000 farmers and ranchers with CSP contracts that will expire this year, totaling over 20 million acres that can be re-enrolled to preserve and expand upon critical environmental benefits.
These 20,000 contracts eligible for renewal began under two different enrollment periods in 2010. One group of contracts is set to expire on September 30, 2014 and the other will expire on December 31, 2014. Both groups now have a two-month window of opportunity between July 11 and September 12 to renew their contracts through this process.
Farmers in the first group will first extend their current contracts through December 31, 2014 so that both 2010 enrollment classes will now expire at the end of the calendar year. Renewal contracts will go into effect January 1, 2015.
It Pays to Renew
It is optional to renew an expiring contract, and participants who do not re-enroll can always re-apply and compete for funding in future annual CSP signups. However, there is significant benefit to renewing now: the process for renewing is non-competitive and much simpler than re-applying through the competitive process later, and participants will avoid any gaps in their CSP payments that would otherwise occur.
By July 11, NRCS will mail letters to all CSP participants with contracts that are set to expire this year. The producer must then sign up for the renewal offer between July 11 and September 12, 2014. Following this initial renewal period, eligibility determinations and obligations will be completed in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015 (October – December 2014).
Participants will need to meet additional renewal criteria. Under the terms of the 2014 Farm Bill, CSP contract holders can renew their contracts provided: they have met the terms of their initial contract; agree to adopt and continue to integrate conservation activities across the their entire operation; and agree to either meet the stewardship threshold of at least two additional priority resource concerns or exceed the stewardship threshold of at least two existing priority resource concerns by the end of the renewed contract period.
These terms are slightly different than the terms for renewals under the 2008 Farm Bill that were in effect at the time farmers and ranchers with contracts expiring this year signed-up, so it would be wise for producers interested in renewing to check in with their local NRCS office for precise information about how the 2014 Farm Bill renewal terms will work in practice.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) — which helped develop and champion CSP — has recommended that renewal criteria will be implemented in such a way that producers will be asked to improve one or more existing CSP enhancements or adopt one or more new CSP enhancements to demonstrate a commitment to continual improvement and to use the program to adopt strong conservation across the entire agricultural operation. In addition, we have recommended to NRCS that they communicate with each participant at the outset of the renewal process about whether they meet or exceed the stewardship threshold for the requisite number of priority resource concerns already, or whether they will need to add conservation enhancements and practices to meet some of the stewardship thresholds.
The renewal process should be fairly simple. Producers with expiring contracts should be on the lookout for the renewal letter by July 11 and can contact their local NRCS office with any questions about the renewal process.
Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment