WASHINGTON, D.C. — Farmers enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) who have contracts expiring at the end of the year have until May 5 to renew their participation in the program.
The deadline is only for farmers currently enrolled in CSP and whose contracts end Dec. 31, 2017. Producers who renew their contracts will do so for five years. The next opportunity for farmers to enroll in the program for the first time is expected in late winter or early next spring. CSP is administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Under the program, participants are paid to actively manage, maintain and expand conservation practices while continuing agricultural production on their land, the agency said. Eligible practices include cover crops, buffer strips and soil health building activities.
“CSP gives the environment a break by continuing to do practices, enhancements and activities that improve and protect the environment,” explained John Wilson, Ohio NRCS assistant state conservationist for programs. “For every acre we can do that on, the more environmental quality we can gain.”
Nationally, more than 80 million acres are enrolled in CSP. Benefits to farmers may include increased crop yields, better resilience to extreme weather and decreased inputs, according to NRCS. CSP is USDA’s largest working lands conservation program. Since 2009, the agency has spent more than $29 billion to help farmers make conservation improvements.
“CSP is for working lands,” said Jane Hardisty, Indiana state conservationist. “Thousands of people have made the choice to voluntarily enroll in the program because it helps them enhance natural resources and improve their business operation.”
Last fall, NRCS announced changes to the program that were designed to enable producers to better evaluate the conservation options that benefit their operations, while improving the health and productivity of their land, noted Michael Young, acting deputy USDA secretary.
“The changes made to CSP are providing even greater opportunities for stewardship-minded producers across the country to participate and bring their conservation efforts to a higher level,” he said. “The new tools and methods for evaluating operations, expanded options to address the producer’s conservation and business objectives and the focus on local resource priorities have resulted in a 30 percent increase in applications for this wildly popular program.”
The program changes included new tools that allow farmers to see why they are or aren’t meeting stewardship thresholds, NRCS said when the changes were announced Sept. 1, 2016. The tools also allow producers to see potential payment scenarios early in the process. The program will also offer more flexibility to address local conservation concerns.
“The program is more transparent now,” Wilson said, “and it’s more flexible. There are nearly 300 practices, bundles and enhancements you can do now in the new CSP. We can also explain the payments a little easier now. Farmers will know if they do ‘X’ practice, they’ll get paid ‘X’ amount.”
CSP encourages the adoption of such cutting-edge technologies as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage and new soil amendments designed to improve water quality, NRCS said. Farmers with questions about their contracts or who are interested in renewing should contact their local NRCS field office. For more information, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/csp