February 12, 2016
This piece is the first in a four-part series chronicling stories from farmers and ranchers who have experienced success with the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
Farming and ranching is more than just a job; according to Alabama farmer, Miguel Otero, it’s a way of life.
“I guess farming is something you carry in your genes,” said Miguel. “If you’re raised that way, you just kind of go back to it.”
When Miguel emigrated from Cuba to the United States in 1970 he was forced to give up thousands of acres of land, where he had been producing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and coffee. Although he had to leave behind his farm in Cuba, agriculture continued to call to him.
“I promised myself that one day I’d have some land and some cows and do my own thing,” said Miguel. “Little by little my wife and I started moving up the ladder…that’s when we decided to move up here [to Alabama].”
Today Miguel raises poultry and cattle on his farm in Houston County, Alabama. As a small farm operator, he knows there are many things he can do to increase the productivity of his farm while still maintaining the integrity of the land he owns, but the high time commitment and financial investment required by some of the conservation practices made them less appealing.
Enter Miguel’s local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office. Agents at his local office helped Miguel to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which provided support for him to expand upon existing and bring in new conservation techniques.
“[The CSP program] helped me maintain my pastures so I can rotate my cows more effectively,” Miguel says.
By using an intensive rotational grazing program, Miguel can ensure that his pastureland is used efficiently and experiences even manure distribution, which leads to improved nutrient cycling, greater carbon sequestration, and better forage. These practices are not only beneficial for the environment, but also better for his cattle. Maintaining healthy pastures with diverse, growing forage plants protects the soil from erosion and reduces risks to water quality.
Thanks to CSP funding, Miguel was also able to plant cover crops, which reduce erosion, improve soil health and water quality, help suppress weed pressures, and break pest cycles.
Overall Miguel is happy he made the switch to a more sustainable farming system and has found working through the CSP program with NRCS staff to be a positive experience.
“The staff have been very helpful,” he said. “They told me if you don’t get [funding] this year, just keep signing up, don’t get discouraged. They’ve helped us tremendously, I’ve always really appreciated them.”
Conservation Stewardship Program Sign-up Happening Right Now
CSP provides technical and financial assistance to farmers, rewarding their conservation efforts on working lands. It is the largest federal conservation program of its kind and has nearly 70 million acres currently in the program.
This year, funding has been made available to enroll an additional 10 million acres in the program. Farmers and ranchers have until March 31 to submit the initial application. Current CSP participants who enrolled in 2012 also have until March 31 to renew their contracts for an additional five years before they expire at the end of this year.
This year in Alabama alone nearly 100,000 acres are available for new enrollments, plus 64,000 acres are up for five-year renewal contracts.
Farmers and ranchers are in a unique position to give back to the land that give so much to them and their families. CSP provides a unique opportunity for farmers and ranchers to protect the integrity of their land and receive support for comprehensive conservation efforts.
In order to support farmers and ranchers and encourage their involvement in this important program, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released its CSP Information Alert, a step-by-step sign-up guide to the program with full enrollment details, including a complete list of all conservation activities that qualify for awards.
NSAC has also published the more detailed, Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which includes enrollment guidance, key definitions, explanations of the ranking and payment system, and helpful hints for accessing the program.
Printed copies of the Farmers’ Guide can also be purchased. To inquire about ordering printed copies, email NSAC at email@example.com.
To see more photos of CSP at work on the Otero Farm, please visit our Flickr page!