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New Edition of NSAC’s Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program Just Released

November 19, 2020

Image: Farmers Analyzing Crop.

Today, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released its Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The guide provides farmers and ranchers looking to enroll in the CSP program, or renew CSP contracts, with helpful, comprehensive, and accurate information about the program. 

Since 2003, CSP has provided farmers and ranchers with five-year, renewable financial assistance contracts for implementing and maintaining conservation measures across their entire operation as they work to help solve regional resource concerns.

NSAC periodically updates the Farmers’ Guide to ensure up-to date information is available. If you or a farmer you know are considering enrolling in CSP, you can review this NRCS form in the preparation for application to the program. 

What Is in This Year’s Guide? 

The Guide can help you understand the steps involved in applying for and using CSP, learn more about the conservation activities CSP can help you implement, understand how your farm will be ranked, understand the way CSP payments work, and prepare for the reporting requirements you will need to meet once enrolled. Among the key topic headings are eligibility, enrollment, ranking, and payments.


All private agricultural land is eligible for CSP, including cropland, pastureland, rangeland, land used for agro-forestry, and non-industrial forest land. Even those who rent their farms are eligible for CSP, as long as there is a reasonable expectation of control of the land for the duration of the contract. . In some cases, public lands that are part of the farming and ranching operation may also be eligible for CSP. 


Because CSP is a competitive program, there are some steps you must take and metrics you must meet so NRCS can score your farm and determine if it is eligible for CSP. This means filling out an application, determining which conservation enhancements are best for your farm, and filling out the new Conservation Assessment and Ranking Tool (CART) questionnaire. Based on what your current farm conservation activities and what you plan to do, CART will give your farm a numeric score so it can be compared to other farms in your state and area. 

If NRCS determines that your farm is eligible for CSP, you will then work with your NRCS representative to develop a CSP contract for your farm that includes the list of conservation enhancements you have chosen to implement during the five-year contract term.. You will also be responsible for some reporting on the enhancements you put in place before you can receive  financial assistance.

Priorities, Thresholds, and Ranking

Each region of the country has unique conservation challenges. Even different parts of the same state can have vastly different concerns that need to be addressed. Depending on where your farm is located, you will be ranked higher if you address key priority resource concerns in your region. Examples of priority resource concerns include wind and water erosion, pest pressure, fire management, soil quality, and 13 other concerns (the full list is in the Guide).  An analysis of how CART will be used to score your farm application is in the Guide. 

Practices, Enhancements, and Bundles

The bread and butter of CSP are conservation practices, enhancements, and bundles. These are the building blocks that make up a CSP contract. 

Practices are the basic conservation activities that have long been supported by programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other cost-share programs. There are a total of 84 approved conservation practices for CSP (full list is in the Appendix of the guide)

Enhancements are more substantial interventions and are unique to CSP. As of the publication of this guide, there are 156 NRCS-approved enhancements, each of which is associated with and builds upon, but goes beyond, the basic requirements of the associated conservation practice. 

Bundles are the most integrated groupings of conservation enhancements that may work well together to provide increased benefits when they are implemented as a group on particular types of farms. Participants who include bundles as part of their CSP contract receive a higher level of financial assistance to encourage the holistic approach to generate additional conservation benefits. 

How do CSP Payments Work?

A farmer’s annual CSP payment will consist of at least two and possibly as many as four payments.  The annual payment total cannot be less than $1,500, and the the annual payment total generally cannot exceed $40,000, considering the payment limit for five-year contracts is $200,000. 

There are existing activity payments that support the active management and maintenance of ongoing conservation activities. These payments are based on the number of resource concerns that meet or exceed the stewardship threshold at the time of application. A detailed explanation of how this payment is calculated can be found in the Guide. 

There are also additional activity payments, to fund the adoption of conservation practices, enhancements, and bundles, supplemental payments for high priority practices for cropland (resource-conserving crop rotations) and pasture and rangeland (advanced grazing management including management-intensive rotational grazing)and payments for those who develop comprehensive conservation plans, all of which are described in further detail in the Guide. 

Below is a handy infographic explaining how CSP payments work.

If you are interested in learning more about the provisions outlined above as well as what it takes to fulfill your CSP contract, what kinds of benefits CSP provides for Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, as well as what CSP can do for organic producers, we encourage you to take a look at the later sections of our Farmers’ Guide.

We hope this resource is helpful to you as you learn more about the Conservation Stewardship Program. 

Take a look at our new Farmers’ Guide here

Categories: Carousel, Conservation, Energy & Environment

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