Conservation Stewardship Program: A step toward efficiency Back »

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) Application deadline has been extended to February 7, 2014. This article outlines how one producers sees CSP as a step toward efficiency.

Recently, land rents in south central South Dakota have doubled and tripled, so taking care of what he has is crucial for Bonesteel, SD, rancher Chad Kehn. “We’ve reached a point where increasing our efficiency makes more sense than increasing our number of acres,” Kehn said. ““I want our operation to be around for my children and grandchildren, so taking the best possible care of our land is really important.”

For the Kehn family, maximizing efficiency meant tweaking the way they manage both their cow herd and farming acres. The staff at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and conservation district in Gregory County provided Kehn the technical support he needed to get started. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) of the NRCS had financial assistance for the conservation activities Kehn wanted to try.

“I had read a lot about cover crops but didn’t know where to start,” Kehn said. “There is so much information out there about best practices and soil health that sorting out what makes the most sense for your own operation can be a challenge.”

Once Kehn learned about opportunities through CSP and other NRCS assistance, he hit the ground running. To increase soil health while complementing livestock needs, Kehn added cover crops and a hoop barn confinement system. The cover crops have helped improve his soil’s organic matter while providing additional grazing opportunities for his cattle. The hoop barn has maximized feed efficiency and given Kehn the ability to finish his own cattle while also improving the quality of manure he spreads across his fields.

In only three years, these combined efforts have noticeably improved crop yields. “There’s work involved to use CSP, but it’s all been worth it,” Kehn said. “I think you have to have an open mind for what’s out there. For me, the practices encouraged through the program are working. I’ve increased carrying rates in pastures, seen yield improvements and increased my profit margin. Diversifying has been the best thing for us.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has extended the deadline for new enrollments in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for Fiscal Year 2014. Producers interested in participating in the program can submit applications through their local NRCS office through Feb. 7, 2014. Learn more by visiting the NRCS web site and the Self Screening Checklist or contact any local USDA Service Center.

Photo by: Earth Team volunteer Stephanie Cavenee, Bonesteel, SD.

Chad Kehn and a young friend show the success of 2013 cover crops through the CSP program. “In 2012, all our crops were zeroed out, except the field where we had used a cover crop mix; that field yielded 70 bushels,” Kehn recalled. “Did the cover crop make that much of a difference in a year? I don’t know, but it seems a close enough relationship to me that I’m going to keep up with.” The 2013 cover crop mix he used, included crops like Sudan, turnips, radishes, oats, rape and millet, was designed to complement the cattle operation. This blend helps round out Kehn’s traditional crop plan, which centers on corn, seed oats and hay.

Photo by: Earth Team volunteer Stephanie Cavenee, Bonesteel, SD.

Kehn also added a hoop barn confinement system to his operation. Built in 2011, the structure is 36-feet wide by 120-feet long and has a maximum capacity of 120 head. Along with the environmental benefits, Kehn believes the barn has added so much value to his operation through increased feed efficiency, decreased animal stress, increased manure quality that he plans to add a second building.

For more information, visit the NRCS South Dakota CSP website.

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