NSAC's Blog

Conservation Stewardship Program Update – Part I

July 29, 2011

Note:  This is the first of several blog posts that will summarize some initial data we are receiving from USDA on the Conservation Stewardship Program.

In January of 2011, the third sign-up period for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) closed and in June National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White reported to the House Agriculture Committee that over 34 million acres of land have been enrolled in the program since its inception.  To put this in real terms, as the Chief did in his testimony to the House Committee in early June 2011, the total number of acres enrolled in CSP is equivalent to twice the size of the state of Maine.

Since the Chief’s testimony, the enrollment total has increased to close to 36 million acres.  Each year 12.769 million acres of crop, pasture, range and forested land is enrolled in the program.  NRCS reports that for the 2011 sign-up, 9,230 contracts have been finalized to date and that number will increase a bit more once all the 2011 contracts are finalized by the end of August.

Since the last farm bill was authorized in 2008, there have been CSP enrollments in 2009, 2010, and 2011, with funding obligated to farmers and ranchers throughout the United States who grow food, fiber, wood, and fuel for the nation in a way that protects soil, water, air and wildlife habitat for future generations.  Through CSP, farmers, ranchers, and foresters are rewarded not just for the crops they produce, but how they produce them.

NRCS recently released select data to NSAC on the 2009 and 2010 enrollments years.  In this three-part blog series we will report on the progress that CSP has made in making land stewardship a financially rewarding endeavor for farmers and ranchers across the US.

For background information on CSP, you can go read the NSAC Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill or read previous blog posts about the program.  You can also read our Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program.  An updated version of this publication will be available on our website in August 2011 and can also be ordered in hard copy.

The 2009 and 2010 Sign-ups in a Nutshell
In the initial CSP sign-up in 2009, 10,612 producers were enrolled, representing 12.6 million acres of agricultural and forest land and $144.7 million in annual financial assistance.  (CSP contracts run for five years and may be renewed provided there is continual conservation improvement.)

As the figure to the right depicts, the majority of acres with conservation treatment under CSP in 2009 were cropland and rangeland.  The average payment per acre for these two land-use types were $21.55 and $3.89 per acre, respectively.  The average payment per acre was $16.34 for pastureland and $6.44 for forestland during this sign-up period.  Note that payments per acre by land use type change when multiple land-use types are being treated in one contract.  The values presented here are for contracts with single land-use types only.

The overall average payment per acre during 2009 was $11.48, the average contract amount was $13,643 and the average number of acres per contract was 1,188.  (All payment rate information is presented as financial assistance only and therefore does not include the additional technical assistance investment, which totaled $60 million.)

The 2010 sign up period enrolled 9,955 farmers and ranchers, representing 12.5 million acres and about $175 million in annual financial assistance for conservation enhancement.

The average contract award for the program increased from the first sign-up period to $17,641 and the average payment per acre also increased to $13.98.  The average number of acres per contract was 1,261 in the second sign-up period. You can see the average payment per contract for both sign up periods in the chart to the left.

The average payment per acre in 2010 for cropland was $23.97, $4.04 for rangeland, $18.45 for pastureland, and $8.62 for forestland.

Resource-Conserving Crop Rotations
CSP includes special supplemental payments for new or improved highly diversified resource-conserving crop rotations that build soil quality and reduce chemical use.  During the 2009 and 2010 sign-ups, 646 contracts included resource-conserving crop rotation payments on nearly 300,000 acres, with a first year per acre average payment rate of close to $10.  The total average payment rate over the course of the 5-year contracts will be higher, as the supplemental payments are made only as the changes or improvements in the rotation are actually made in the field.  The numbers do not include CSP participants who already had and were credited for resource-conserving crop rotation at the time of enrollment.

Priority Resource Concerns
Under CSP each state determines on a statewide, regional, or watershed basis what the priority resource concerns will be for CSP enrollments.  Each state must declare at least three priority resource concerns for the state or regions or watersheds within the state.  Farmers and ranchers must address the priority resource concerns in their CSP contracts, exceeding the sustainable or non-degradation levels on at least one priority at the time they enroll and at least one more during the initial CSP contract period.

To the left is a table that summarizes the percentage of states selection of specific priority resource concerns.  It falls into two broad segments.  The top choices, covering a majority of the country, are water quality, wildlife, biodiversity, soil quality and soil conservation.  The second tier, representing minority percentages of the country, are the more regionally specific resource concerns related to water conservation (quantity) and air quality, plus the newly-added resource concern of energy conservation.

Part Two and Three of the CSP Blog Series
In part two of this blog series NSAC will report cumulative statistics about the program.  This will include the top ten states which have received the greatest share of CSP funding, enhancements and practices most frequently chosen by farmers for CSP payment, as well a breakdown of funding by crop/commodity type.

Part three of the series will highlight participation of specialty crop producers and beginning, social disadvantaged and limited resource farmers and ranchers in the program and how their participation differs from the general farmer population.

Eventually we hope to receive from NRCS information about funding by resource concern and expected environmental results.  We will publish that information at a later date.

If there is specific data or information you would like us to highlight in these blogs, please let us know.  You can share your comments on the bottom of this blog post.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Grants and Programs

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