Thanks to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for their input on this article!
Meet Cornelius Joe. Joe is a third-generation farmer raising black angus cattle on pasture in Greensboro, Alabama, and a mentor to beginning farmers in his community. For the past ten years, Joe has worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and their Conservation Stewardship Program to increase the quality of both his pasture and his livestock.
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers, rewarding both their active management of ongoing conservation efforts and adoption of new, additional conservation enhancements and advanced conservation systems on their entire farming operation.
CSP helped Joe improve his soil quality through soil sampling, improved forage planting, rotational grazing, reducing compaction and improving nutrient distribution from manure. He has also been able to reduce his fertilizer application, adopting a split nitrogen application which reduces runoff and improves soil quality.
Like many farmers, prior to enrolling in CSP, Joe worked with his Natural Resources Conservation Service office to enroll in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which he used to support building fencing to keep his stock out of waterways and provide other watering infrastructure. Through CSP, he was later able to retrofit his stock tanks so that birds and bats can drink out of them without becoming trapped.
Joe is actively involved in improving conservation on his farm and often comes to his NRCS agent with new ideas and asks what programs might be able to support his plans. He values the support provided by CSP and other conservation programs, but recognizes that for many small farmers, a partial cost share payment isn’t enough to justify the added costs of conservation activities. He recommends that payments should cover 100 percent of costs for farmers who need it. “One of the major problems that small farmers face is that things are really costly,” says Joe. “We need programs like CSP.”
How Can You Participate in the Conservation Stewardship Program?
If you are a farmer, rancher, or forester who works to enhance natural resources and strengthen environmental protection on your working land, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provides a unique opportunity for you to be rewarded for your conservation efforts.
CSP recognizes that, as a farmer, you feel a responsibility not only to produce food, fiber, and energy, but also to maintain and enhance critical natural resources and provide environmental services. CSP is designed to support you in your work through payments for actively managing and maintaining current conservation efforts, expanding and improving on them, and adding new conservation activities—all while you work your land for production and profit.
As with any program like this, there is paperwork involved and that’s where the Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program comes in. Created by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, it walks you through how CSP works and the steps involved in applying for and using CSP.
It’s helpful to work closely with your local NRCS office on your application. They can tell you what the priorities for funding are for the year, and what kind of practices you might implement or are already doing, that would qualify. So, if you’re interested, it’s a great idea to contact staff early. Click here to find your local office.
What is the Deadline?
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year, but your State office will establish a cut-off date each year so that they can review and rank application for funding. Applications received after the cut-off date will be considered the following year.
It’s nice to be rewarded for the good work you do and this is just one opportunity. Download the guide, check out the helpful graphics showing the process, and then get started on your own application!