January 30, 2017
Farmers and ranchers seeking 2017 funding under the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) have five more days to submit their initial applications. CSP, which is the nation’s largest working lands conservation program, supports farmers and ranchers in their efforts to actively manage and expand conservation activities on their agricultural lands.
The 2017 CSP sign-up period officially opened on November 14, 2016, and farmers and ranchers will have until this Friday, February 3, to submit the initial two-page application (NRCS-CPA-1200). The application form is simple and asks only for information regarding land ownership, type of production, and contract information.
If approved, applicants will move forward and through a more detailed eligibility and ranking processes. Although farmers can sign up for CSP throughout the year, those who miss next week’s February 3 deadline will not be considered for the program until 2018.
Resources Available for Reinvented Program
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) was instrumental in developing CSP, which was first authorized (under another title) as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. As part of our commitment to empowering and educating conservation farmers nationwide, NSAC has provided a free online guidebook since the program’s inception, the Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program. The guidebook is updated regularly and always available for free on our publications page.
NSAC’s Farmers’ Guide, as well as our CSP Information Alert, include updates relevant to the 2017 sign-up period, as well as a detailed breakdown of the major changes made as part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) “CSP reinvention.” The NSAC resources, along with outreach to potential applicants, are particularly important given the significant changes revealed as a part of the opening of this year’s sign-up period.
The CSP reinvention was designed to make the program more transparent, more accessible, and more farmer-friendly. CSP is critically important if we want to help farmers and ranchers engage in more conservation-minded agriculture, and NSAC is committed to ensuring that applicants have all the necessary the information and support to enroll and achieve their goals. While some details about the reinvention are still unclear, NSAC urges all interested farmers to apply before the February 3 deadline so that they do not lose the option to receive 2017 funding. NSAC will provide additional opportunities to review analyzed reinvention data as soon as more information becomes available. After applying, applicants can also continue to work through any unclear details with their NRCS field office.
NSAC’s resources include details on the new eligibility tool, the new ranking tool, expanded options for conservation activities that the participant can select, and a redesigned payment structure. Details on these changes were also summarized in a previous blog post.
CSP has supported thousands of farmers and ranchers by helping them to protect and improve the natural resources on and around their lands; the program also helps farmers and ranchers improve their financial and business operations. As a result of the program, CSP participants have seen real, on-farm benefits including: increased yields, decreased inputs, wildlife population improvements, and better resilience to weather extremes, such as drought and flooding.
Recently, NRCS also launched a participation incentive for small and diversified operations: in fiscal year (FY) 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established a minimum contract payment of $1,500 for all successful applicants.
NSAC has long advocated for this change as it levels the playing field for small-acreage, high-value operations that wish to add or improve conservation activities on their operations through CSP. Because CSP payments are in part linked to the number of acres enrolled, the program has struggled to appeal to smaller operations. Fortunately, the minimum payment has begun to address this problem. More than 1,400 highly qualified, small-acreage farmers have been granted the new minimum payment of $1,500 since it began in FY 2016. Even though these farms are individually relatively small, the cumulative conservation impact of their enrollment is highly significant.
NSAC urges small acreage farmers who may not have previously considered CSP to apply for 2017. Interested farmers should submit an application this week, and can then continue to work through the eligibility process with their local NRCS office.
Contract Renewals and Additional 2016 Analysis
CSP participants are eligible to renew their contracts for an additional five years, which means that farmers who initially enrolled in the program in 2013 will be eligible for renewal by the end of this year. NRCS has not yet released the deadline for participants to renew their expiring contracts, but NSAC will provide additional information and alerts when the deadline is announced.
Additionally, each year NSAC provides an analysis of the conservation activities supported, as well as the associated resource concerns addressed, through CSP. When our 2016 analysis is completed, we will publish updated information on our website.