March 15, 2018
Farmers who enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in 2014 have less than one month to renew their existing contracts for an additional 5 years. Applications for renewal of expiring contracts are due April 13, 2018.
CSP, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to help them actively manage and maintain existing conservation systems, as well as to implement additional conservation activities on land in production (also known as “working lands”). Through CSP, participants can receive assistance in improving the soil, water, air, and habitat quality on working lands; they can also use CSP support to address water quantity and energy conservation issues.
CSP is the nation’s largest conservation program; currently, more than 72 million acres are enrolled across the country.
At the end of this year, 9.5 million of the acres currently enrolled are set to expire if not renewed for an additional five-year contract. By extending CSP contracts for an additional five years, producers who enrolled in 2014 will have the opportunity to continue to build upon and improve their stewardship activities. On top of the environmental benefits, renewing means there won’t be any gaps in their annual CSP payments.
For the more than 7,000 farmers and ranchers that enrolled in 2014 and qualify to renew their contracts this year, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has provided an updated Information Alert, with details on the renewals process as well as recent changes to CSP.
In 2017, NRCS made significant changes to CSP. These changes, termed the CSP “reinvention,” were made in an effort to make the program more transparent, flexible, and most importantly, more farmer-friendly.
In previous years, NRCS has set a uniform sign-up deadline, with new contracts and contract renewals coming due at the same time. This year, however, there is one deadline for new sign-ups (previously March 2) and a different deadline for renewals (April 13).
Farmers and ranchers who originally enrolled in CSP in 2014 should be aware of the major changes made to the program through the reinvention which were not in place when they first applied including: (1) a new eligibility tool to determine if applicants meet the minimum stewardship threshold requirements to participate in CSP; (2) a new ranking tool to assess which applicants should receive priority in establishing CSP contracts (Note: only new contracts enrolling for the first time will be ranked, as long as the renewing contract meets the eligibility criteria, it will be renewed); and (3) expanded options for enhancements, practices, and bundles. To read more about the CSP changes, check out NSAC’s updated Information Alert.
CSP contract holders renewing this year also have the opportunity to benefit from a new minimum payment, which was not available when they first enrolled in 2014. NRCS has now set the minimum contract payment for all successful CSP participants at $1,500. NSAC championed this change during the reinvention in order to level the playing field for smaller, diversified operations. Because CSP calculates its payments using total acreage, payments to smaller and diversified operations tend to be lower despite the significant cumulative environmental benefits that they produce. This is a big win for small acreage farmers, including specialty crop growers, because it ensures that the program properly rewards superior environmental stewardship – regardless of the size of the operation. CSP contract holders who enrolled in 2014 and received a payment under $1,500 are now eligible for that minimum payment.
CSP contracts last for five years and can be renewed for an additional five years as long as farmers have met the terms of their initial contract. Farmers must also agree to build upon their previous stewardship and conservation efforts by either: (1) adopting at least two additional priority resource concerns; (2) or exceeding the stewardship threshold of at least two existing priority resource concerns by the end of the renewed contract period.
The map below highlights the regional breakdown of expiring contracts. The dark green portions show the areas with the highest concentrations of CSP acres that are set to expire if not renewed by April 13. For more insight on the exact number of acres and contracts set to expire in each state, click here.
If a current CSP contract holder for some reason allows their initial contract to expire, they can apply for an entirely new contract; however, doing so is more complicated and more competitive and, without opting for the seamless renewal process, they would have a gap between payments for their first and second contracts.
CSP participants who originally enrolled in CSP in 2014 should have received a notification letter from their local NRCS office with instructions to submit the initial application to renew. If you think your contract began in 2014 and you have not yet heard from NRCS, reach out to your local NRCS office immediately to inquire.
NSAC’s updated Information Alert includes a detailed explanation of the renewals process, as well as eligibility requirements for those applicants seeking renewal.
Current contract holders who enrolled in 2014 should fill out the Conservation Program Application (CPA) 1200 (the same form used for new applications) as well as CPA 1248 (CSP Renewal Offer Worksheet). After submitting an initial application by April 13, the Conservation Evaluation Application Tool (CAET) will be used to ensure eligibility for CSP. Once a renewal application is deemed eligible, applicants will work with the NRCS to select activities for their additional 5 year contract, using the new 2018 activity list. All new activities must be planned and started after the initial contract has expired. Remember that there is no ranking process for renewal applications, so if an application is deemed eligible after going through the CAET, applicants will move on to the field verification and implementation stages. Farmers will work with NRCS to develop a new stewardship plan to support their new contract, and their renewal offer will be obligated once all of their initial contract’s scheduled activities have been certified as complete.
Download NSAC’s updated Information Alert for more information on the process of renewing expiring CSP contracts as well as available offerings for this round of renewals.
In addition to providing the information participants need to enroll in CSP and renew expiring contracts, NSAC is also simultaneously working to ensure that the 2018 Farm Bill protects and enhances CSP. For more information on our farm bill campaign and opportunities to make conservation programs more accessible and effective for farmers and ranchers across the country, click here.