Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract holders who originally signed up for the program in fiscal year (FY) 2014 are now eligible to extend their contracts for an additional year of payments. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) first announced the extension opportunity earlier this week.
CSP is the only federal working lands conservation program that provides advanced, comprehensive conservation support to address multiple natural resources across an entire operation. CSP contracts provide an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to intensify their stewardship efforts by continually improving and building upon in-place conservation activities. Given CSP’s focus on making compounding improvements to achieve long-term sustainability, the opportunity to renew for another year will provide a substantial benefit to enrolled producers.
Farm Bill Changes to the Renewal Process
Normally, CSP contract holders who originally signed up for CSP in FY 2014 would have had the opportunity to renew their contracts for an additional five-year term last year. However, the expiration of the 2014 Farm Bill in September of last year without an extension of authority left NRCS in a state of limbo, unable to move forward with the renewals process for expiring contracts. In order to mitigate the impact of the program’s lapse on producers, NRCS allowed farmers with expiring CSP contracts to extend their contracts through June of 2019. This did not provide the thousands of affected CSP contract holders with any additional payments, but did maintain their enrollment in CSP, which meant that producers also retained their eligibility for future renewals.
Now that a new farm bill is in place, one which retains CSP as a standalone program, NRCS is able to address renewal options for the CSP contracts that were extended last year. Due to changes that the 2018 Farm Bill makes in the renewals process, participants with expiring CSP contracts will need to apply to renew, which means they will have to compete with renewing and first-time applicants. Conservation gains made over the course of the initial contract will, however, still be factored in when considering a participant’s renewal application.
Previously, CSP contract holders were eligible for an automatic renewal so long as they met the terms of their initial contract and agreed to take on additional conservation activities in the new contract. Thankfully, the 2018 Farm Bill does ensure that the timing of renewal deadlines will allow applicants to begin the process early enough that they should not experience any service gaps (should their renewal application be accepted).
The farm bill authorizes NRCS to extend CSP contracts initially signed in FY 2014 for one additional year. It is important to note, however, that this option is only available for participants who took advantage of last year’s extension (without additional payment) opportunity. This one year extension opportunity is designed to keep existing contract holders in the program while NRCS develops the new requirements for renewals based on changes made in the 2018 Farm Bill. Contract holders who choose to participate in the one-year extension will also have the opportunity to apply for a full renewal next year.
Extension Process – What to Expect
NRCS will be sending a contract extension notification letter to all CSP participants who are eligible for the one-year extension no later than April 8, 2019. Farmers who think they should be eligible, but who have not yet heard from NRCS, should reach out to their local NRCS office for more information.
The letter that participants receive will explain that the initial renewal application was cancelled because of the process modifications made in the 2018 Farm Bill, and it will also outline next steps for transitioning to a one-year extension for FY 2019. NRCS will modify approved contracts to extend them for one additional year, and approved applicants will receive funding for the sixth year of activities at the same rate that was in effect for the fifth year of their contract. If CSP participants choose to extend the contract for an additional year of payments, NRCS will also offer them the opportunity to apply and compete for a renewal contract in FY 2020.
FY 2019 CSP Enrollment Open Now
In addition to the opportunity for FY 2014 contract holders, farmers and ranchers who are looking to enroll in CSP for the first time (or those who enrolled previously, but whose contracts have since expired) are also now able to begin the application process. There is not yet a deadline set by which applicants must submit, but participants should start looking into the application now to ensure that they can address any questions or concerns and be ready to submit before the planting season begins this spring.
Stay tuned for more updates on the FY 2019 sign-up period, including the renewals option, on the NSAC blog and via NSAC’s Weekly Roundup e-newsletter.