USDA has announced that farmers and ranchers wanting to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) have until June 11 to get applications filed at their local USDA office.

After filing the simple application form, farmers and ranchers will also need to schedule an appointment to complete the CSP Conservation Management Tool (CMT), a set of questions related to their conservation baseline and scheduled improvements. After all applicants who file the short application form by June 11 have completed the CMT, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will rank the proposals to determine the best offers for enrollment during this 2010 sign-up.

Ranking, and then field visits and contract signing, will occur over the summer months, with the goal of enrolling 12.8 million acres of crop, pasture, range and private non-industrial forest lands. Combined with the 12.8 million acres enrolled in the 2009 sign-up, CSP enrollment will stand at 25.6 million acres by this fall. The first CSP payments for both the 2009 and 2010 enrollees will occur in October 2010.

This USDA announcement comes in advance of the issuance of the final rule for the CSP. The program operated under an interim final rule in 2009. Important changes to the rule are expected, so therefore farmers will be granted an opportunity to re-assess whether to keep their application pending once the final rule is issued.

At the current time, USDA expects the final rule to be issued prior to the June 11 application cut-off point, though guessing the timing of federal rulemakings is always somewhat precarious. A revised CMT will also be issued in the very near future.

Also expected soon is a report on the 2009 sign-up, which is just now being finalized with the signing of the last few contracts.

Fred Abels, a crop and cattle farmer from Holland, IA, who enrolled in CSP during the 2009 sign-up had this to say about the process: “I thought the questions helped fit my farm to the program – or should I say fit the program to my farm. You could on paper understand my farming operation. For a nationwide program to be able to analyze my conservation efforts and my shortcomings is tremendous; the questions and answer choices were thought out. NRCS people at the local level were great at helping my wife and me fill out the paperwork.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) issued a much-used Farmers Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program for the 2009 enrollment period. The handy guidebook will be revised and reissued as soon as USDA issues the revised 2010 CMT and the final rule for the program.

“We have heard from many farmers and ranchers excited about their new CSP contracts from the 2009 sign-up,” says Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the NSAC. “We encourage other producers to consider enrolling during the next month by getting applications filed at their local office. CSP is an important tool for advancing the sustainability of agriculture for generations to come.”

CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program established by the 2008 Farm Bill to provide technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to actively manage and maintain existing conservation systems and to implement additional conservation activities on land in agricultural production. CSP targets funding to:

  • address particular resources of concern in a given watershed, region or state

  • assist farmers and ranchers to improve soil, water and air quality

  • provide increased biodiversity and wildlife and pollinator habitat

  • sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change

  • conserve water and energy.

The 2008 Farm Bill authorizes a new nationwide, continuous sign-up for CSP, which means farmers and ranchers anywhere in the country will be able to apply for the CSP any year and at any time of the year. Periodically during the year, NRCS will rank applications and then develop contracts with those farmers and ranchers with the highest rankings until funding for that ranking period is completely allocated.