CSP Undergoes Major Changes in 2017

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The USDA recently announced a sweeping reinvention of its Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), including several changes related specifically to organic agriculture. CSP is designed to support farmers and ranchers as they actively manage and expand conservation activities on their agricultural land.

With 70 million acres of productive agricultural and forest land enrolled, CSP is the nation’s largest conservation program. It is built on the belief that we must work together to enhance natural resource and environmental protections, while continuing to produce food, fiber, and energy economically. The USDA recognizes and rewards farmers and others who are implementing conservation practices on their land.

Thousands of people have already voluntarily enrolled in the program, which offers farmers the opportunity to earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities such as cover crops, rotational grazing, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and the transition to organic farming, while still keeping land in active production.

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) undertook the CSP reinvention with the intent of making the program more transparent, flexible, and farmer-friendly. Part of the CSP reinvention includes changes to the list of conservation activities for 2017. These include a total of 223 individual conservation enhancements, 74 conservation practices, and 32 bundles (suites of enhancements) that are eligible for CSP.  Several conservation bundles are focused specifically on organic agriculture. 

These bundles work together to provide increased conservation benefits when they are implemented as a group. There are currently organic specific conservation bundles focused on bolstering soil health, reducing wind erosion, and preventing water erosion. Additionally, there are organic conservation bundles for pasture and rangeland. Often times, the conservation practices encouraged by CSP are able to align with an Organic System Plan. 

Enrollment for CSP

This year, NRCS is authorized to enroll ten million new acres and to renew up to 12.8 million acres whose five-year conservation contracts are set to expire. While some essential details of the reinvention have yet to be announced by NRCS, it is important that interested farmers and ranchers submit their initial applications by February 3, 2017 to be considered for assistance this year.

Applicants are required to fill out a simple form with information on land ownership, type of production, and contact information. While sign-up is available year round, those who miss the February 3rd deadline will not be considered for the program until 2018.

As a new administration stands poised to take office, it is particularly important that the CSP advance conservation and stewardship goals in a manner that works well for both farmers and the environment. With the increased opportunity for organic agriculture in CSP, we urge farmers and ranchers to take advantage of this initial sign-up deadline.

Information Alert and Farmers’ Guide Available

In order to support farmers as they consider applications to CSP 2017, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released a CSP 2017 Information Alert and an updated version of the Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program

NSAC’s 2017 CSP Information Alert includes step-by-step sign-up and details on the changes to the CSP. 

NSAC’s Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program includes detailed guidance, key definitions, explanations, and helpful hints for accessing the program.

Photo credit: USDA ARS