CONSERVATION SECURITY PROGRAM SIGN UP

The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) initiated a watershed approach in 2004 for implementation of the Conservation Security Program (CSP) that was part of the 2002 Farm Bill. Under this approach, a total of 18 watersheds were selected nationwide for the first CSP sign-up in 2004. Now an additional 202 watersheds in the U.S. have been selected for the second CSP sign-up in 2005.

The watershed approach was chosen by NRCS to implement the Conservation Security Program in a “staged” fashion, with new watersheds being added each year. This will help focus the limited annual funding allocations for CSP to the highest targeted areas for conservation enhancement, as well as allowing limited NRCS staff adequate time to properly administer the CSP Program and to provide necessary technical assistance to participating producers. Once the CSP Program is fully implemented, NRCS hopes to offer the CSP Program in about one-eighth of the nation’s 2,119 watersheds each year. So, in theory, all eligible producers should get a chance to enroll in the CSP program over an eight-year period.

The Conservation Security Program was a new conservation provision that was included in the 2002 Farm Bill, and is intended to encourage conservation practices on working cropland. Under CSP, producers are eligible to receive annual payments for implementation of various conservation practices to address natural resource concerns in their farm operation. Eligible CSP land includes private agricultural lands and some tribal lands. USDA has targeted $13.4 billion in funding over the next seven years. Congress has set spending for the CSP Program at $202 million for fiscal year 2005, which is 500% higher than the $41 million CSP funding cap in 2004. However, the 2005 funding allocation for CSP is still $80 million below the target funding level set in the 2002 Farm Bill. Sign-up for 2005 CSP program in the eligible watersheds is expected to last about 45-60 days, and will likely begin in February or March this year.

PLANNING FOR CSP SIGN UP
It appears that many Minnesota crop producers may already be eligible for Tier I or Tier II of the Conservation Security Program with current farming practices, if they are using reduced or minimal tillage practices that leave a significant amount of crop residue on the soil surface. If you are in one of the eligible watersheds, you should be watching for CSP sign-up information and details in the coming weeks.

If you are in other areas that are not in the eligible watersheds, you will likely have opportunities to sign-up for the CSP Program in future years, so it is a good idea to become familiar with CSP criteria and requirements. Remember, under current guidelines, you will likely only get a chance to enroll in the CSP Program once every eight years. For more information of the CSP Program, contact your local NRCS Office, or go to the NRCS CSP Web site at : http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/.

Editors note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.