*Editor’s note: Since the posting of this article, the deadline for the Conservation Stewardship Program has been moved to Jan. 27, 2012. Updates have been noted in the text below.
The Conservation Stewardship Program offers incentives to farmers for conservation efforts, including energy efficiency.
Less than two weeks are left for farmers to enroll in the USDA National Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program. To be considered for the current fiscal year, producers must file applications by the Jan. 27, 2012, deadline.
The CSP, a voluntary stewardship incentives program, is designed to reward farmers, ranchers and forestry producers who maintain existing conservation as well as adopt additional conservation measures that provide multiple environmental benefits beyond the farm or ranch. The program pays producers for clean water, better soil management, improved habitat, energy efficiency and other natural-resource benefits.
In 2010 alone, 21,000 applicants enrolled in CSP, putting additional conservation on 25.2 million acres of land, which equals about the size of Kentucky.
Traci Bruckner, assistant director of rural policy at the Center for Rural Affairs, recommends that farmers, ranchers and others call the Center for Rural Affairs’ Farm Bill Helpline at 402-687-2100 with questions about the application process and to share both positive and negative experiences.
“We know the previous sign-ups have yielded some great success stories for farmers and ranchers, but also some disappointments and frustrations,” Bruckner says. “We want this program to work for all farmers and ranchers employing conservation-based farming systems and firmly believe the CSP is a step in the right direction for policy to financially reward historical commitments to conservation, as well as encourage further adoption.”
She encourages producers who decide to call the helpline to have specific information available when they call, including a complete copy of their application materials and, more specifically, the Conservation Measurement Tool responses and ranking information for their state or ranking area. The NRCS office will provide only a summary unless the producer specifically asks for a complete printout that includes their ranking information, the highest scores in their state or area and how far down the ranking list NRCS was able to provide contracts before the money ran out for the last sign-up period.
“One of the main goals for our Farm Bill Helpline is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of programs, such as the CSP,” Bruckner says. “It is only with that information that we are able to push for any needed changes and improvements.”
Producers can also receive guidance for applying for other conservation programs through the helpline.
Producers who intended to submit a CSP application for this fiscal year but ran out of time during the holiday rush can sign up for CSP at any time throughout the year. However, once this year’s cutoff date has passed, applications will not be considered until spring 2013. To sign up, producers should visit their NRCS local service center.