Image courtesy of USDA Conservation Stewardship Program.
The USDA Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is the largest working lands conservation program in the United States with more than 70 million acres of productive agricultural and forest land enrolled. Through CSP, agricultural producers and forest landowners earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, rotational grazing, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and pollinator and beneficial insect habitat, all while maintaining active agricultural production on their land.
CSP participants voluntarily enroll their entire ag operation in the program under a 5-year contract, with the option to renew for another 5 years. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps producers maintain or improve the existing conservation activities on their operations and adopt new ones. The program offers greater incentives for producers who want to kick their conservation up a notch with bundles of enhancements with higher payment rates.
New to the program this year includes new tools to assess farmers’ eligibility and rank applications; minimum contract payment information; added flexibility for mid-contract changes; expanded options for enhancements, practices, and bundles of practices; and a redesigned payment structure.
While CSP applications are accepted at any time of the year, the deadline to apply for Fiscal Year 2017 participation is Friday, February 3rd. Those who do not submit an application before this deadline will have to wait until 2018 for their application to be considered. Visit your local USDA Service Center to submit an application.
More information can be found on the USDA Conservation Stewardship Program website. A free downloadable publication titled Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, prepared by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) offers additional information.