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Inside the Nation’s Largest Conservation Program – Part II

November 13, 2013

Last week, we highlighted data on the 2011 and 2012 Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) enrollments. In this post, we continue to present 2011 and 2012 sign-up data and also provide some basic information on how CSP influences land management decisions on farms, ranches, and forests across the United States. We begin, however, with a look at the very first bits of preliminary information we have received from USDA on the 2013 CSP enrollment.

Initial 2013 Sign-up Data

Nearly 7,000 farmers and ranchers enrolled over 9.5 million acres in advanced conservation through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in 2013. The average cost per acre for the conservation acres was $13, totaling over $124 million in payments, or roughly $620 million over the life of the five-year CSP contracts signed.

Total acres enrolled in 2013 were lower than previous years in part due to the effects of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration and in part due to the very late start for enrollment due to congressional delays in passing a final funding bill for fiscal year 2013.

The top five states in terms of number of farmers and ranchers to enroll were, in order, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

The top five states in terms of acreage enrolled were, in order, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

The top five states in terms of financial assistance were, in order, Arkansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Oklahoma.

We will be doing a deeper dive into 2013 enrollment data once it becomes available from USDA next year.

Allocation of CSP Funding and Acreage by State Prior to 2013

As mentioned in Part I of this series, the total value of all five-year CSP contracts signed from 2009 to 2012 is roughly $3.4 billion. Over the first four years of the program, NRCS paid out over $1.7 billion to 38,989 producers, with payments based on their environmental benefits score. This amount includes payments on all contracts regardless of when those contracts were signed.

The top five states receiving CSP funds from 2009 to 2012 were Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Arkansas. Together, these states accounted for about a third of total payments.

Minnesota remains the largest recipient of CSP funds over the period as a whole, with farmers and ranchers in the state having received nearly $57 million dollars in first-year payments since 2009.

However, Arkansas was the top recipient for 2012 with over $19 million dollars in first-year payments. The chart below shows the rapid growth in CSP payments going to Arkansas and other trends in CSP awards to the top ten states from 2009 to 2012.


The 12.8 million acres available for CSP enrollment each year are allocated to the states in proportion to each state’s share of total U.S. agricultural land area. Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico, and Montana enroll the greatest number of acres in the program, with farmers in these states enrolling over 14.5 million acres of farm and ranch land from 2009 to 2012. The table below highlights the top ten states for acreage enrollment, comparing new acres enrolled in 2009-2010 to new acres enrolled in 2011.


These top enrolling states show different patterns of land use. Enrolled acres in Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Texas are predominantly rangeland; Colorado and Oklahoma have roughly equal amounts of cropland and rangeland; and cropland predominates in Kansas, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Missouri (which also has the highest acreage of enrolled pastureland).

Farms with Commodity Crops Dominate Contract Numbers

Farmers that predominantly grow corn, forage/hay, and wheat account for over two-thirds of all contracts in 2011. The chart below shows the share of contracts going to farms that indicate that their main crop is one of the five major commodity crops (corn, wheat, soybeans, rice, and cotton) as well as trees and forage/hay. The chart also shows the share of contracts going to all other crops (from fruits and vegetables to sugar maple and ginseng) and to farms with no crops (mostly ranches). For cropland, the breakdown is very similar to the overall breakdown in the use of cropland by commodity. The vast majority of contracts for livestock farmers were for beef cattle.


Practices and Enhancements Most Popular with Farmers and Ranchers

Financial assistance for the adoption of new conservation activities through CSP is divided into two categories – regular conservation practices, and conservation enhancements, which are conservation activities that go above and beyond the requirements of regular conservation practices. Each year, NRCS publishes a list of activities that are available to producers through CSP, all of which have associated environmental benefits scores. The crux of the CSP rests upon the advanced conservation enhancements; however, farmers can also use regular conservation practices as needed to help them exceed the CSP stewardship thresholds to address additional priority resource concerns in their region.

The most commonly used enhancements include pesticide and nutrient management as well as wildlife habitat establishment and improvement.

Top 10 by Count (number of producers choosing enhancement), 2009-2012Top 10 by Units (acres, linear feet, etc), 2009-2012
1. Techniques to reduce pesticide drift1. Rotation of supplement and feeding areas
2. Rotation of supplement and feeding areas2. Techniques to reduce pesticide drift
3. GPS targeted spray application of pesticides3. Monitoring key grazing areas
4. Watering facility for wildlife escape4. Riparian forest zone enhancement
5. Tissue tests for nitrogen management5. GPS targeted spray application for pesticides
6. Monitor key grazing areas6. Wildlife Friendly Fencing
7. Harvest hay to protect wildlife7. Managing pastures with nutritional monitoring software
8. Split nitrogen application 50%8. Tissue tests for nitrogen management
9. Recycle 100% of farm lubricants*9. High level IPM
10. High level IPM10. Grazing management for wildlife

*This enhancement remains on the list, despite being removed as an option in 2011, because so many producers chose it during the first CSP sign up.

The table below shows the enhancements that were rated highest for their environmental benefits in 2012 and how frequently they were used in CSP contracts. None of the ten highest-scoring enhancements for 2012 were among the ten most used enhancements for that year. Generally, enhancements with mid-level scores were the most frequently used.

EnhancementEnvironmental Benefit Score, 2012Number of Times Used, 2012Total Units, 2012
Continuous No Till (Organic)6200 acres
Continuous No Till (Non-organic)62487237,332 acres
Conversion of Cropped Land to Grass-Based Agriculture591517,169 acres
Continuous Cover Crops5528482,590 acres
Extending Riparian Forest Buffers for Water Quality Protection and Wildlife Habitat 4831117 acres
Management Intensive Rotational Grazing 4510356,350 acres
Resource-Conserving Crop Rotation 4414778,558 acres
Decrease Irrigation Water Quantity or Conversion to Non-Irrigated Crop Production 44168,404 acres
Use Deep Rooted Crops to Break Up Soil Compaction 42787311,436 acres
Use of Cover Crop Mixes42652261,217 acres

The enhancement with both the highest use and the highest benefit score for 2012 was Rotation of Supplement and Feeding Areas, which had an Environmental Benefit Score of 40 and was used in 3,254 contracts (second highest of all enhancements) on 4.75 million acres (highest of all enhancements). The remaining high-use enhancements, however, had benefit scores close to or well below the median benefit score.

Resource-Conserving Crop Rotations, which build soil quality, reduce erosion, and reduce chemical use, rank high in the top ten enhancements by environmental benefits. CSP includes special supplemental payments for new or improved highly diversified resource-conserving crop rotations and during the 2009 and 2010 sign-ups, 1,001 contracts included resource-conserving crop rotation payments on nearly 400,000 acres. However, in the 2011 and 2012 sign-ups, only 391 contracts included resource-conserving crop rotation payments on nearly 160,000 acres.

A clear area for administrative improvement in implementing CSP is for NRCS to do much more in future sign-ups to promote the use of the enhancements and practices with the highest benefit scores, as these are the techniques NRCS has identified as providing the greatest environmental benefit. This will take some further fine-tuning of program offerings and incentives in future enrollment years.

Coming Next – Part Three of the CSP Blog Series

Part three of the series will highlight CSP participation by specialty crop producers and beginning, socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers and ranchers and will look at trends in participation that are unique to these categories of farmers.

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

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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