The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now accepting applications to re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) through March 31, 2015. This renewal option is specifically for farmers and ranchers who enrolled in CSP initially in 2011. Those 2011 enrollees have CSP contracts that expire at the end of 2015.
CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program that provides 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 production. Through CSP, participants take steps to improve soil, water, air, and habitat quality, and can also address water quantity and energy conservation issues.
CSP contracts last for five years, at which time they are eligible for renewal. There are approximately 9,600 farmers and ranchers with CSP contracts that will expire this year, totaling over 12.75 million acres that can be re-enrolled to preserve and expand upon critical environmental benefits
It Pays to Renew
It is optional to renew an expiring contract, and participants who do not re-enroll can always re-apply and compete for funding in future annual CSP signups. However, there is significant benefit to renewing now: the process for renewing is non-competitive and much simpler than re-applying through the competitive process later, and participants will avoid any gaps in their CSP payments that would otherwise occur.
NRCS has already mailed letters to all CSP participants with contracts that are set to expire this year. The producer must then sign up for the renewal offer by March 31, 2014. Local NRCS offices will then follow up with the producer to discuss renewal criteria and new conservation options; the producer then can decide whether to sign up for another five year contract.
Participants will need to meet additional renewal criteria. Under the terms of the 2014 Farm Bill, CSP contract holders can renew their contracts provided they have met the terms of their initial contract; agree to adopt and continue to integrate conservation activities across the their entire operation; and agree to either meet the stewardship threshold of at least two additional priority resource concerns or exceed the stewardship threshold of at least two existing priority resource concerns by the end of the renewed contract period.
These terms are slightly different than the terms for renewals under the 2008 Farm Bill that were in effect at the time farmers and ranchers with contracts expiring this year signed-up, so it would be wise for producers interested in renewing to check in with their local NRCS office for precise information about how the 2014 Farm Bill renewal terms will work in practice.
The recently updated ATTRA publication: Federal Conservation Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching can also be useful for background on federal conservation programs.
For more information on the program and the process for signing up, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released two free resources. NSAC’s newly revised Information Alert includes not only sign-up details, but also a complete listing of all of the 119 conservation enhancements available to those considering a contract renewal.
The Information Alert lists these conservation activities in order of their conservation and environmental point values. The higher the point value, the greater the expected environmental benefit and thus the greater weight they have in terms of both ranking the application among other CSP applications, and calculating the ultimate CSP financial assistance payment the producer will receive.
NSAC has also published an updated version of our Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program. Download the comprehensive guide at the NSAC website.
The renewal process should be fairly simple. Producers with expiring contracts can contact their local NRCS office with any questions about the renewal process.