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Conservation Stewardship Program Update – Part III

August 4, 2011


Note:  This is the third and final blog post summarizing initial data we are receiving from USDA National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) on the Conservation Stewardship Program.  You can read the first blog post in this series here and the second blog post here.

This blog post highlights participation of specialty crop producers and beginning, social disadvantaged, and limited resource farmers and ranchers in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and how their participation differs from the general farmer population.  It will also include information on CSP participation via special area-wide projects.

Specialty crop producers

In 2009 and 2010, 3,348 producers of specialty crops enrolled in five-year CSP contracts.  These farmers have enrolled 1.8 million acres of land and received a little over $16 million in annual contract funding.  Although these producers receive only five percent of CSP funds, they have enrolled over 7 percent of total program acres (and a much higher percentage of total cropland enrolled in the program) and make up 16 percent of enrolled producers.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Marketing Service, specialty crops are defined as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).  These crops must be intensively cultivated and used as food, for medicinal purposes, or for aesthetic gratification.

Specialty crop producers are an important component of the agricultural sector in the US.  They produce fresh fruits and vegetables for consumers and provide important economic benefits to rural communities across the country.

According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture there are 225,000 specialty crop producers in the US or 10 percent of the total farm population.  Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA Under Secretary of Research, Education, and Economics, recently testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee and reported that specialty crops were valued at $67.4 billion and employed 1.4 million workers across the US in 2007.

These farms also make up 12.7 acres of harvested crop acreage, which is why their participation in CSP is so important.  As noted above, specialty crop producers have enrolled 1.8 million acres of land in CSP since 2009, which means that 14 percent of total specialty crop acres are being managed with sustainability and conservation in mind through the CSP in just the first two years of CSP enrollment.

The chart to the right illustrates the top five states enrolling the greatest number of acres and receiving the largest proportion of CSP dollars for specialty crops.

The table below highlights the top ten states for CSP contracts to specialty crop producers for both the 2009 and 2010 enrollment periods.

Beginning, social disadvantaged and limited resource producers

NSAC pays particular attention to how federal programs impact beginning farmers and ranchers, social disadvantaged, and limited resource producers across the US.  The data here provides an overview of how CSP impacts these farmers and ranchers and compares their participation to the general farmer population enrolled in the program.

Since CSP began, 3,446 beginning, social disadvantaged and limited resource farmers and ranchers have applied for funding.  As noted in the table below, roughly 10.6 percent (or 2,191 contracts) of all contracts for CSP funding were awarded to these farmers.  As outlined in the original statutory language, each state maintains a 5 percent set-aside of CSP acres for beginning farmers and ranchers, plus an additional 5 percent set-aside for socially disadvantaged or limited resource producers.  These pools allow applicants to compete separately from the bigger pool of CSP funds, which provides them a better chance of receiving a contract.

Note that during the first two sign-up periods the program has not achieved the five percent set-aside goal for any of the aforementioned set-aside categories.  However, the separate pools did improve the acceptance ratio of these farmers and ranchers.

The states with the greatest number of CSP contracts issued to beginning farmers and ranchers are listed in the chart to the right.

Special area wide projects

There are two special targeted project-based projects within CSP, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) and the Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI).

CCPI leverages public-private partnerships in specific geographic regions in the US to address significant resource concerns.  These projects engage a variety of stakeholders including non-government agencies, landowners and NRCS officials.

MRBI is a collaboration among the various NRCS programs (including Conservation Innovation Grants, Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program, and CCPI) to implement conservation practices on land abutting the Mississippi river, control nutrient runoff, improve wildlife habitat, and sustain agriculture productivity of agricultural producers in the region.

According to NRCS data, CSP dedicated $73,308 a year to CCPI and $914,196 a year to MRBI during the 2010 sign-up.  (Neither option was yet available during the 2009 CSP sign-up.)  The average contract payment for farmers receiving CSP funds for these two projects was slightly higher than the overall 2010 sign-up period average payment per contract of $17,641.  The average payment per contract for CCPI was $18,327 and $20,315 for MRBI.  Average payment per acre for both programs was also slightly higher than the overall average of $13.98; $17.92/acre for CCPI and $21.33/acre for MRBI.  A total of 50 CSP contracts were issued for these two programs and 46,941 acres were treated.

Want more data and information on CSP?

As mentioned in our first blog, NSAC will be publishing an updated version of the Farmers Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program in both hard copy and electronically in the coming weeks.  If you would like to purchase a copy of the guide, please email intern@sustainableagriculture.net.  Electronic copies will be available on our website and we will post a blog when it has been published.


Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Local & Regional Food Systems


2 responses to “Conservation Stewardship Program Update – Part III”

  1. Chen says:

    On this page, do you mean Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)? instead of “USDA National Resource Conservation Service (NCRC)”?
    This article is titled:Conservation Stewardship Program Update – Part III.

  2. Steve Shaffer says:

    First sentence, 5th paragraph under Specialty Crop Producers – should be “12.7 percent” rather than “12.7 acres.”

    Interesting that CA represents about 50% of specialty crop production, but only received about 8% of the funds.

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