$700 million is available nationwide to support conservation efforts on your operation. But you have to fill out a short form and apply by the deadline to be considered.
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is USDA’s largest conservation program, offering whole farm, comprehensive conservation assistance to farmers and ranchers across the country. CSP helps producers to improve their profitability and sustainability by protecting and enhancing soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat across millions of acres of agricultural land. You can apply for CSP at any time during the year, but if you miss the May 10 deadline, you’ll have to wait until the following year’s deadline for your application to be considered.
CSP helps you build on your existing conservation efforts while strengthening your operation. As graziers, you might be interested in improving forage quality, planting cover crops, planning prescribed burns, or managing riparian areas and pasture to benefit wildlife habitat. As part of CSP, Natural Resources Conservation Service staff will work with you to custom design plan that includes “enhancement” (management activities) to help you meet your goals.
Examples of Enhancements Covered Under CSP
What Does It Take To Apply?
First, you must complete a short and simple application form, NRCS Form CPA 1200. This is the same, generic three-page form that is used for all NRCS conservation programs that offer financial assistance to farms and ranchers, and it is available online or at your local NRCS office. It is fairly quick and easy to fill out, though take special note of the second point below, as it has been a barrier for some producers in the past.
1. CSP contracts must include all agricultural or private forest land in your operation that you will have control of for the five-year term of the CSP contract, and for all of this land you must have a farm record number established with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA).
2. If you do not currently have a farm record number, go to your local FSA office to first establish your farm record before submitting the CSP application. It’s best to set up an appointment. Bring your social security number or EIN, and your property deed(s) or lease agreements. While you’re there, ask about other services FSA can provide like farm mapping and loans.
Once you’ve filled out the short application form and submitted it by the May 10 cut-off date, you’ll have some time to sit down with your local NRCS staff to take the next steps which include looking at your current management system and natural resources. There are minimum stewardship thresholds that must be met to participate. In addition, each state has its own conservation priorities, so your application will be ranked in part on how your new practices would meet those priorities. (NOTE: I met with the NRCS Western Region Conservationist who said they would like to have more applicants in the western U.S. to take advantage of the funding they have available.)
For more detail on the full application process and information about how this year’s CSP is different than in previous years, check out this special Information Alert from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
How Much Funding Is Available?
For 2019, the farm bill made $700 million available for new CSP contracts. What the full amount will be for 2019 depends on unused dollars from previous years, and funds taken out for the Grassland Conservation Initiative.
The minimum payment you can expect is $1,500. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, “While there is no longer statutory direction as to the average payment rate or total acres enrolled in the new farm bill, there are several new provisions to ensure that available funding is directed toward the most effective practices. These provisions include increased payment rates for key practices that benefit soil health (see page 16 of the Information Alert for more details on this change), as well as direction for NRCS to produce a report analyzing the most expensive practices to determine if payments can be reduced for expensive practices with low conservation benefits.
CSP participants are seeing real results. Some of these benefits include:
• Improved cattle gains per acre
• Increased crop yields
• Decreased inputs
• Wildlife population improvements
• Better resilience to weather extremes
If those sound like things you’d like to have, get going on your application now!
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