May 10, 2010
USDA announced today that farmers and ranchers have until June 11 to submit applications to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) this year. The brief application form can be filed at a local NRCS service center.
After submitting the application, farmers will be scheduled for a follow-up meeting with NRCS to complete the CSP Conservation Management Tool (CMT), a set of questions that help to determine the producer’s current conservation practices (also known as the conservation baseline) as well as their scheduled improvements.
Once the applicants from the June 11th round have completed the CMT, NRCS will rank the proposals and use this ranking to make offers for the 2010 sign-up.
Prior to the 2009 cut-off date last year, applications for over 33 million acres worth of land were submitted, from which NRCS selected 12.8 million acres of the best applications for enrollment.
The ranking process this year will occur early in the summer, followed by field verifications and then contract finalization for those chosen for enrollment.
Combined with the 12.8 million acres enrolled in the 2009 sign-up, CSP enrollment will stand at 25.6 million acres by this fall. The first CSP payments for both the 2009 and 2010 enrollees will occur in October 2010.
Today’s USDA announcement comes in advance of the issuance of the final rule for the CSP. The program operated under an interim final rule in 2009. Important changes to the rule are expected, and therefore farmers will be granted an opportunity to re-assess whether to keep their application pending once the final rule is issued. NSAC expects most of the rule changes to be improvements relative to the interim rule.
Improvements are also expected for the CMT. Those will likely be announced soon and, once finalized, will be posted on the NRCS CSP webpage.
USDA expects the final rule to be issued prior to the June 11 application cut-off point.
Also expected soon is a report on the 2009 sign-up, which is just now being finalized with the signing of the last few contracts.
NSAC issued a much-used Farmers Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program for the 2009 enrollment period. The handy guidebook will be revised and re-issued as soon as USDA issues the revised 2010 CMT and the final rule for the program.
Background on CSP
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is a comprehensive working lands conservation program established by the 2008 Farm Bill to provide 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 agricultural production. CSP targets funding to:
The 2008 Farm Bill authorized a new nationwide, continuous sign-up for CSP which means farmers and ranchers anywhere in the country are now able to apply for the CSP any year and at any time of the year. Periodically during the year, as will occur after the June 11th cut off in 2010, NRCS ranks applications and develops contracts with those farmers and ranchers with the highest rankings until funding for that ranking period is completely allocated.
Crop, pasture, range, and private non-industrial forest land is eligible for the program. Enrollment acreage is allocated to individual states in proportion to the amount of agricultural land in the state relative to the national total.
CSP is unique among federal farm conservation programs in many ways, including its higher natural resource and environmental standards for participation, its dual reward structure for actively managing existing conservation activity and for adopting new conservation efforts, special payments for diversification trough adoption of resource-conserving crop rotations, and its innovative use of a CMT to measure and compensate for environmental benefits and ecosystem services.
With the funding provided in the 2008 Farm Bill for CSP, over 50 million acres of land will be enrolled in the program before the expiration of that farm bill at the end of 2012.
We plan to post again on this program as CMT and rule changes are announced by USDA in the coming weeks. To stay abreast of this and other news from NSAC, sign up for our weekly news round-up.