NSAC's Blog

Inside the Nation’s Largest Conservation Program – Part III

January 7, 2014

This blog post highlights participation of beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as well as organic and transitioning-to-organic farmers and ranchers in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and looks at trends in program participation unique to these categories of farmers.  

CSP rewards farmers, ranchers, and foresters for how they grow what they grow.  The program has enrolled over 58 million acres of crop, range, and private forest land between 2009 and 2013 in advanced conservation.  This is the third and final part of a three part series.  Earlier posts looked at overall enrollment and at conservation enhancements.

Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers

NSAC pays particular attention to how federal programs impact beginning farmers and ranchers as well as socially disadvantaged producers across the country.  The data here provide an overview of how CSP impacts these farmers and ranchers and compares their participation to the general farmer population enrolled in the program.

Between 2009 through 2012, over 7,000 beginning, socially disadvantaged, and limited resource farmers and ranchers applied to enroll in CSP.  Of those applications, 63 percent were approved, for a total of over 4,700 contracts worth over $300 million in financial assistance.

The graph below shows the percentage of enrolled acres going to beginning and socially disadvantaged producers.  The original statute calls for a 5 percent set-aside of acres for beginning farmers and ranchers and an additional 5 percent set-aide for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  The set-asides allow these producers to compete in their own funding pools and thus have a better chance of receiving a contract.

While USDA failed to meet the beginning farmer and rancher set-aside in 2010, it successfully met the set-aside for socially disadvantaged producers in all four years of the program for which data is available, and the set-aside for beginning farmers and ranchers in 2011 and 2012.  NSAC commends USDA for its progress in fulfilling these critically important Congressional mandates to support beginning and socially disadvantaged producers.


This table shows the top 10 states by number of contracts going to beginning farmers and ranchers in 2012.   Many of these top states for beginning farmer and rancher contracts also fall among the states with the highest overall number of contracts.

State BFR Contracts
Minnesota 117
North Dakota 84
Oklahoma 75
Wisconsin 68
Missouri 64
Nebraska 63
Iowa 50
Kansas 45
Louisiana 43
Texas 40

Another way to assess the distribution of CSP support for beginning farmers and ranchers across the country is to look at the percentage of acres enrolled by this population by state.  The table below shows the states with the greatest percentage of acres going to beginning farmers and ranchers.

State Percentage of Acres for BFRs
Hawaii 75%
Maine 39%
West Virginia 17%
Ohio 13%
New Jersey 12%
Washington 12%
California 11%
North Dakota 11%
Idaho 11%
Connecticut 9%

Certified Organic and Transitioning Producers

Conservation is central to organic agriculture, and organic and transitioning produces encounter unique opportunities and challenges in using CSP.  Certified organic production is growing rapidly across the country, and in 2011 accounted for approximately 0.5% of US agricultural land.  Enrollment of organic acres in CSP lags behind this level somewhat at 0.34% in 2012.  There was, however, significant variation from state to state.  The table below shows the ten states with the most certified organic acres enrolled in CSP for 2012 and 2013.

State Organic Acres (2012 and 2013)
Arizona 9,101
Nebraska 8,760
Wisconsin 7,500
South Dakota 7,458
California 6,001
Minnesota 5,562
Montana 3,839
Iowa 3,325
Texas 2,887
New York 1,920

Organic acres in most of the above states accounted for more than 0.34% of the state’s total CSP acreage.  California in particular stood out, with over 18% of its enrolled CSP acres coming from certified organic producers.

Producers in the process of transitioning to certified organic production face their own unique set of challenges, and NRCS tracks their enrollment in CSP separately from organic producers.  The table below shows the ten states with the most acres enrolled in CSP by transitioning farmers and ranchers.

State Transitioning Acres (2012 and 2013)
Nebraska 3,805
Colorado 1,497
Wisconsin 1,023
Iowa 909
Georgia 760
North Dakota 649
California 619
Illinois 583
Texas 400
South Dakota 384

Many different kinds of organic producers take advantage of CSP, from those growing vegetables in California to those raising dairy cows in Wisconsin.  The chart below shows the portion of CSP’s certified organic acres accounted for by different land uses in 2012 and 2013.  Cropland was the most common land use for organic producers, accounting for nearly two thirds of enrolled organic acres.


Wisconsin accounted for nearly one third of the total acres in organic pastureland with 1,725 acres.  Wisconsin also had one of the highest levels of organic cropland with 5,366 acres, behind only Nebraska with 7,611 acres.  Arizona enrolled the most organic rangeland with 7,500 acres, followed by California at 4,273 acres.

Transitioning producers enrolled a more balanced set of land uses, as shown in the chart below.



Improved outreach to organic and transitioning producers should be a top priority for NRCS going forward, particularly given the rapid growth of organic agriculture in the United States and the existence of CSP practices and enhancements targeted specifically to organic and transitioning producers, such as Integrated Pest Management for Organic Farming and Transition to Organic Cropping (or Grazing) System.


CSP continues to be a popular and valuable program for farmers across the nation.  If you are interested in learning more about how CSP works, check out our Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which will be updated to reflect any changes that will result to the program pending passage of the Farm Bill.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

One response to “Inside the Nation’s Largest Conservation Program – Part III”

  1. […] CSP use across the country, looking at total enrollment, land management, and participation by beginning, socially disadvantaged, organic, and transitioning-to-organic producers from […]