By Tom Driscoll, government relations representative, National Farmers Union

6DI0G0GL4PWould you like to improve soil health, water and air quality, wildlife and pollinator habitat or energy efficiency on your land? The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers farmers and ranchers technical and financial support to achieve these goals on working lands. And producers who have thought about CSP in the past may need to give the program another look; NRCS recently made changes that will make CSP work better for smaller and beginning farmers.

CSP is a competitive program; applications are scored and ranked based on the conservation benefits to be achieved by each proposed contract. The scoring process takes ongoing conservation activities into account, so applicants can become more competitive by making improvements. Unlike other conservation programs, CSP payments are calculated using the environmental benefits achieved on your farm or ranch as opposed to cost sharing for projects or per-acre rentals. This encourages an approach to conservation planning that considers the entire farm. Practices considered in making CSP payments include, but are not limited to, cover crops, no-till, Integrated Pest Management, precision nutrient applications, native grass and legume planting in pasture, and forested riparian zone management.

NRCSLA00010_-_Louisiana_(4415)(NRCS_Photo_Gallery)The combination of good stewardship, financial incentives, and, in many cases, improved margins by reducing input or feed cost make CSP an especially attractive program for smaller and beginning producers. NRCS has taken steps to make the program more accessible to them. NRCS has raised the minimum annual payment from $1,000 to $1,500, guaranteeing any producer who secures a CSP contract an additional $500 a year. The increased minimum more accurately reflects the costs producers face implementing conservation practices. Interested producers should visit their local USDA Service Center to learn more and begin the application process. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, but cut-off dates are set to review a year’s applications together.

Have you participated or considered participating in CSP or other conservation programs on your farm? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned here at NFU for more news on conservation opportunities.

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