By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy

NFU’s Climate Column has covered a number of farming practices, including conservation tillage and rotational grazing, that can help farmers increase profits by saving money on inputs, energy, and labor. Beginning farmers can receive assistance to implement such practices, as well as incentive payments for the environmental benefits they achieve, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

CSP is distinct among federal conservation programs because payments are linked to conservation benefit achieved. Applicants to the program must satisfy certain minimum conservation thresholds, then compete with one another based on existing conservation activities and planned expansion of such activities. Both existing and additional practices factor into payment calculations, removing any reason to wait for acceptance into the program to start making conservation improvements, or to reverse progress made to receive assistance. In fact, across the entire U.S., only about half of applications are accepted, so interested farmers should think hard on conservation benefits they can attain immediately to make their applications more competitive. Even a beginning farmer who would not be able to apply for and manage a CSP contract for several more years can start making his or her farm more competitive now.

Beginning farmers are also at an advantage when filing CSP applications. In every application review, five percent of the available acreage is set aside for farmers who have been in the industry for fewer than 10 years. An additional five percent is set aside for socially disadvantaged farmers. Beginning farmers are also allowed to use estimates in the application where established farmers must use production history. Finally, beginning farmers accepted into CSP benefit from a guaranteed minimum annual payment of $1,000, eliminating some cases where the payment might not be worth the paperwork burden.

Interested farmers can learn more with NRCS’s Self-Screening Checklist .

Do you participate in CSP? Does the program benefit your farm? Have you considered applying? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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