NSAC's Blog

New Environmental Benefits Scores for CSP

November 28, 2012

Farmers and Ranchers who are interested in applying for enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for fiscal year (FY) 2013 can now determine how many points the various conservation activities offered under the program will be worth.

Remember, however, that the FY 2013 sign up is currently on hold due to a hopefully temporary funding glitch contained in the FY 2013 appropriations continuing resolution.  Congress still has an opportunity to allow for a FY 2013 sign up, but it must act before they recess for the holidays in December to allow USDA to proceed with a sign-up this winter.  A farm bill reauthorization, farm bill extension, omnibus appropriations bill, or a bill to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff could all act as vehicles for such a fix.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which implements the program, uses conservation activity point values to determine how each applicant ranks compared to other applicants and how much they will get paid under their CSP contract.  NRCS has generated point values so that it can act as soon as Congress reverses the funding cut.

Producers can now download this NSAC document to see the environmental benefits score of each of the activities offered in FY 2013.  Not every conservation activity applies to each land use – crop, pasture, range, forest, so if you need more information about which might apply to your farm, cross reference this NRCS chart.

The NSAC chart lists the activities from highest scoring to lowest scoring.  NRCS does not provide this ranked-order information on its website, but NSAC makes it available each year as soon as NRCS publishes the underlying data.

Among the top ranking activities are a number of enhancements aimed at promoting resource conservation on recently expired Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land.  Two of the four highest scoring activities are wildlife habitat enhancements.  Other top ranking activities include prescriptive (rotational) grazing management, cover cropping, intensive no-till, expansion of conservation buffers, and resource-conserving crop rotations.

The NSAC document also defines a number of key terms that are important to those interested in enrolling in the program.  These include conservation enhancements, conservation practices, baseline activities, and point values.

If Congress addresses the CSP funding glitch in upcoming appropriations, farm bill, or fiscal cliff legislation, USDA will be able to begin a FY 2013 sign up and should have enough time to fully enroll 12.7 million acres in 2013, as mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill.

Producers start the process by submitting an initial application form.  The next step is to work with local NRCS field staff to fill out the Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT), which NRCS uses to enroll, rank, and score applicants.  The scores on new enhancements and practices to be added as part of a CSP contract constitute the major portion of the total ranking score.  Producers also receive points, however, for existing conservation activities on their farm or ranch, which they agree to maintain, improve, and actively management during the contract period.

CSP contracts are for five years.  Farmers and ranchers with the highest environmental benefits scores on the CMT will be chosen for enrollment.  NRCS will then schedule on-farm verification visits and develop a CSP plan and contract for each enrollee.

As in 2012, the list of conservation enhancements and conservation practices available for the 2013 sign-up includes 37 regular conservation practices.  The list for 2013 also includes a total of 78 individual conservation enhancements, up from 68 in 2012.  The new enhancements include prescriptive grazing management system for grazing land; enhanced wildlife habitat on expired grass- or legume-covered CRP acres or acres with similar perennial vegetated cover managed as hayland; herbicide resistant weed management; and cover cropping in orchards, vineyards and other woody perennial horticultural crops.

In addition to adding several new enhancements, changes were made to many existing enhancements.  For example, continuous no-till for organic systems and continuous no-till for conventional systems were combined into a single intensive no-till enhancement.  The FY 2012 enhancement aimed at helping farmers plant annual cover crops to scavenge residual nitrogen was broadened to include both annual and perennial cover crops.  In addition, enhanced wildlife habitat was explicitly added to a number of existing activities, such as filter strip and field border expansion and prairie restoration.

You can read more about how the program works in our Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill

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