NSAC's Blog

Conservation Stewardship Program – First Farm Bill Cycle Acreage and Dollar Totals

August 24, 2012

This post includes a first glance look at enrollment data for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for the four enrollment years during the 2008 Farm Bill cycle (2009-2012).


This year’s drought is an urgent reminder of the importance of working lands resource conservation.  Increasing farm system resiliency through improved soil quality and careful management of water resources is important in all years, but bad years put the matter in stark relief.  The Conservation Stewardship Program provides comprehensive conservation assistance to whole farms and working lands:  it offers farmers the opportunity to augment the foundation of their good current conservation efforts by earning payments for actively managing and maintaining them, expanding them, and adding new conservation activities—even while they work their lands for production.  CSP is for working farms, built on the belief that we must enhance natural resource and environmental protection at the same time we produce profitable food, fiber and energy.

A five-year CSP contract will pay annual financial rewards, contributing to the economic bottom line of those farms that achieve the environmental goal of resolving priority resource problems, which may include improving soil, water and air quality; providing increased biodiversity and wildlife and pollinator habitat; sequestering carbon in the soil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change; and conserving water use and energy use.  Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forestland and agricultural land under tribal jurisdiction.

NSAC’s  Farmer’s Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program is a good source of information on program details and the application process.  The Guide also contains a summary of enrollment and conservation data from the 2009 and 2010 enrollment years.

2008 Farm Bill Cycle Acreage and Dollar Totals

The program existed in a different and more truncated form during the 2002 Farm Bill cycle when it was known as the Conservation Security Program.  Since the 2008 Farm Bill, however, the program became a full blown, nationally available working lands conservation program.  There have now been four annual enrollments (2009-2012) for the stewardship program, and while 2012 sign-up data from USDA/NRCS is still a preliminary estimate, the figures are reasonably close tofinal.  So, therefore, for the first time, we are able to sum all the years from the current farm bill cycle with a fair degree of accuracy.

All the CSP data below is from information made available to us by NRCS.  The data set for agricultural land per state is from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.


CSP is now the largest federal conservation program as measured by acres, having reached just shy of 50 million acres nationwide.  In terms of absolute total number of acres, the top states are shown in the table below, and all 50 states are available in this linked table. Assessed in this way, the top states are skewed toward states with large ranching sectors.

Conservation Stewardship Program – Top 10 States by Acres
Estimate Actual Actual Actual Estimate
2012 2011 2010 2009 TOTAL
Nebraska 956,979 1,260,005 1,053,015 783,914 4,053,913
Texas 1,032,508 498,875 699,688 1,338,176 3,569,247
New Mexico 1,046,353 905,792 541,869 936,871 3,430,885
Montana 649,036 964,233 883,579 926,476 3,423,324
South Dakota 834,927 868,844 606,024 688,366 2,998,161
North Dakota 874,552 634,775 663,817 616,913 2,790,057
Kansas 538,953 834,091 723,725 492,690 2,589,459
Colorado 435,683 800,534 606,119 658,257 2,500,593
Oklahoma 591,294 737,811 590,901 546,971 2,466,977
Minnesota 663,586 550,267 448,101 467,660 2,129,614

Acreage as Percent of Ag Land in the State

A different way of looking at acreage enrollment in CSP to date is to ask not how many total acres are enrolled, but how many total acres are enrolled as a percent of all agricultural land in a given state.  For a very different look at the top ten states from this vantage point, the table below shows the top ten states as a percentage of total agricultural land, and again, we are linking the full 50 state table.

Conservation Stewardship Program – Top 12 States by Acres as % of Total Ag Land
Estimate Actual Actual Actual Estimate
2012 2011 2010 2009 TOTAL % of total ag acres
Arkansas 601,528 398,253 313,346 256,173 1,569,300 11%
New Hampshire 49,286 0 1,126 2,304 52,716 11%
Louisiana 250,799 295,192 121,007 143,933 810,931 10%
Nebraska 951,272 1,260,005 1,053,015 783,914 4,048,206 9%
Oregon 255,975 311,702 490,752 350,626 1,409,055 9%
Rhode Island 2,161 148 2,586 1,139 6,034 9%
New Mexico 1,089,102 905,792 541,869 936,871 3,473,634 8%
Colorado 434,621 800,534 606,119 658,257 2,499,531 8%
Minnesota 664,435 550,267 448,101 467,660 2,130,463 8%
Georgia 250,490 263,641 264,056 90,850 869,037 8%
South Carolina 45,548 77,875 95,621 170,085 389,129 8%
Delaware 16,077 7,928 6,478 7,971 38,454 8%

Dollars Obligated

Yet another way of assessing how various states are doing is by looking at the dollars that have been obligated to CSP contracts to date by state.  Once again, the top ten states are provided in the table below and we are also linking the full 50 state table.  Unlike the acreage numbers above, the dollar obligation numbers are more of an estimate, though fairly close estimates.  Sometime in the next few weeks we will update the dollar obligations with more precise numbers once they become available.

Estimated Conservation Stewardship
Obligations ($) by State 2009-12
STATE Total 5-Year Contract
Obligations ($ million)
Minnesota $282.8
North Dakota $240.5
Nebraska $210.4
Kansas $206.2
Arkansas $188.7
Iowa $187.4
Oklahoma $179.9
South Dakota $179.2
Montana $144.6
Georgia $135.5

Conservation Impacts

Obviously while acreage and dollar numbers are interesting, far more important are the conservation and environmental outcomes being generated by the program.  While we have accumulated many wonderful anecdotal farmer stories and have received various sets of data from USDA, we are still awaiting more information and sifting through what has been made available by the agency to date.  We hope to provide more information in the coming months about the conservation benefits of the program, including updates of the information from the first two years already provided in our Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program.

New Farm Bill

Disappointingly, both the Senate-passed 2012 Farm Bill and the House Agriculture Committee-passed 2012 Farm Bill make substantial cuts to CSP.  The Senate bill would cut the program by $1,987 million (or 10.7 percent) over the next decade, while the House bill would take an even larger slice at $3,095 million (or 16.7 percent).  In addition, the House-passed farm disaster aid bill would cut the program by an additional $289 million.

As we head into the final months of this session of Congress, NSAC will continue to advocate against the larger cuts to the program in the House bill and will continue to highlight the folly of using working lands conservation assistance as an offset for disaster aid.   Conservation is what makes farms more resilient to the impacts of drought.  Cutting conservation to pay for drought aid would only serve to ensure even higher emergency and repair costs in future years.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill

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