Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced August 6, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will begin the continuous sign-up for the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) on August 10 with the first signup period cutoff scheduled for September 30.  CSP is a voluntary program that encourages agricultural and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation activities and adopt additional ones on their operations.

"This program will help the Nation's agricultural and forestry producers reach greater levels of conservation performance, which will help protect our land and water," Merrigan said.  "The conservation benefits derived from maintaining and enhancing natural resources will improve the quality of soil and water, assist in addressing global climate change, and encourage environmentally responsible energy production."

Applying for CSP

Agricultural and forestry producers must submit applications by September 30 to be considered for funding in the first ranking period.

To apply for the newly revamped CSP, potential participants will be encouraged to use a self-screening checklist first to determine whether the new program is suitable for them or their operation.  It will be available on NRCS Web sites and at NRCS field offices.

After self-screening, the producer's current and proposed conservation practices are entered in the conservation measurement tool (CMT).  The CMT will be completed with assistance from the NRCS field office staff.  This tool estimates the level of environmental performance to be achieved by a producer implementing and maintaining conservation activity.  The conservation performance estimated by the CMT will be used to rank applications.

States will determine their own priority resource concerns, one of the criteria that will be used to rank applications.

Eric B. Banks, Kansas NRCS State Conservationist, Salina, said priority resource concerns for agricultural land are soil quality, water quality, water quantity, plants, and animals (wildlife and domestic).  The priority resource concerns for non industrial private forestland are soil erosion, soil quality, water quality, plants, and animals (wildlife and domestic).

States will establish ranking pools to rank applications with similar resource concerns.

“In Kansas, based on recommendations received from the Kansas State Technical Committee, the state will be divided into three geographic ranking pools for agricultural land and one statewide ranking pool for nonindustrial private forestland,” said Banks.  He further explained that these geographic ranking pools will align with the Kansas NRCS administrative area boundaries.

NRCS field staff also will conduct on-site field verifications of applicants' information obtained from the CMT.  Once the potential participant has been field verified and approved for funding, he or she must develop a conservation stewardship plan.

Eligibility

The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill) authorizes CSP.  Congress renamed and revamped the former Conservation Security Program completely to improve its availability and appeal to agricultural and forestry producers.  USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers CSP.  

Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland, non industrial private forestland—a new land use for the program—and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

Eligible applicants may include individual landowners, legal entities, and Indian tribes. The program will be offered to producers in all 50 states, District of Columbia, and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups.

For information about CSP, including eligibility requirements, producers can visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/new_csp or visit their local NRCS field office.