CONSERVATION SECURITY PROGRAM SIGN–UP

The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced a watershed approach for implementation of the “Conservation Security Program” (CSP) that was part of the 2002 Farm Bill. Under this approach, a total of 18 watersheds have been selected nationwide.

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 2119 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 new conservation provision that was included in the 2002 Farm Bill, and is intended to encourage conservation practices on working crop land. 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 capped spending for the CSP Program at $41.4 million for fiscal year 2004, which is why the initial CSP sign-up is being limited to eighteen watersheds, and an estimated 3,000-5,000 farms. Sign-up for 2004 CSP Program in the 18 watersheds is expected to begin in the summer of 2004.

When the Conservation Security Program was included in the 2002 Farm Bill, some leaders in Congress and farm organization leaders viewed CSP as an entitlement program that would be available to all eligible producers in the U.S. Some leaders also envisioned CSP eventually having a very close link to other commodity programs. The resulting CSP Program implementation is quite different from what some envisioned, due to federal budget constraints, NRCS staffing challenges, and a somewhat different philosophy on the approach for implementation of the CSP Program. The decision was to implement CSP on a much more “targeted” basis on a watershed approach, in order to take full advantage of limited financial and NRCS staff resources. Except for the competitive bid process, it now appears that the implementation of the CSP Program will more closely resemble procedures for the CRP and EQIP Programs through the NRCS Office, with very direct technical support by NRCS staff and other trained resource management professionals.

Eligibility Requirements For CSP:

Following are the proposed eligibility requirements for the Conservation Security Program.

Agricultural producers must:

  • Be in compliance with USDA highly erodible land (HEL) and wetland conservation provisions.
  • Have control of the land for the entire length of the CSP contract. This will likely require some type of Landlord verification on cash rental land.
  • Have an active “interest” in the farming operation.
  • Be entitled to all or a portion of the crops or livestock marketed from the farm operation.
  • Must have a majority of their crop land located within one of the watersheds selected by NRCS for the CSP Program.
  • Have crop land that is determined eligible by NRCS that has been devoted to crop production in at least four of the six years prior to fiscal year 2002. (1996-2001)
  • Remember that land currently enrolled in CRP, CREP, WRP, etc. is not generally eligible to be enrolled in the CSP Program.
  • Complete a “benchmark” workbook through NRCS for the portion of the farm being enrolled in CSP, which may include the entire agricultural operation in some circumstances. This CSP “benchmark” workbook will be completed by producers and then submitted to NRCS. Once the CSP Program sign-up is announced, the CSP workbook will be available at NRCS offices or on the NRCS web site.


“Resources of Concern”

Producers interested in CSP should become familiar with the term “resources of concern”, which is a term used by NRCS related to soil, water, air, etc. resources that are targeted to be protected through the CSP Program. Each State NRCS Office will develop a “resources of concern” list specific to their state that will be used for determining CSP eligibility. Stewardship practices that will be required by producers for compliance with CSP contracts will be based on this list.

CSP Participation “Tiers”

Participation in the CSP program will be through a “three-tiered” system that will allow producers to select a level of conservation implementation that they are comfortable with. CSP payments will be based on this “three-tiered” system. The eligibility and placement into the CSP “tiers” will be administered by NRCS, based on the “benchmark” workbook completed by the producer, and a rather complicated CSP criteria and stewardship system. Producers will have the option of working with their NRCS staff to try to move to a higher CSP “tier” and to enhance CSP payments in future years.

Following is a brief description of the three CSP “tiers”:

(These are the proposed CSP rules, but have not yet been officially announced by NRCS.)

  • “Tier I” ---
    Producer signs a five-year CSP contract that addresses at least one “resource of concern” on part of a farm. The base CSP payment would be 5 percent of a national average or “adjusted” land rental rate, plus up to 75 percent of implementation costs for the practice, and plus any bonus payments for enhanced conservation practices on the farm. The maximum base CSP payment per producer in “Tier I” is $5,000 per year, and the maximum total CSP payment is $20,000 per year.
  • “Tier II” ---
    Producer must sign a 5-10 year contract to address at least one “resource of concern” on the farm operation. The base CSP payment increases to 10 percent of the average land rental rate, plus up to 75 percent of implementation costs and eligible bonus payments. The maximum base CSP payment per producer in “Tier II” is $10,500 per year, and the maximum total CSP payment is $35,000 per year.
  • “Tier III” ---
    Producer must sign a CSP contract that address all “resources of concern” for the entire farm operation, which is quite comprehensive. The base CSP payment is 15 percent of the average land rental rate, plus up to 75 percent of implementation costs and eligible bonus payments. The maximum base CSP payment per producer in “Tier III” is $13,500 per year, and the maximum total CSP payment is $45,000 per year.


Bottom Line

It’s a good idea to become familiar with CSP criteria and requirements. For more information of the CSP Program, contact your local NRCS Office, or go to the NRCS CSP Web site at: 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.