The deadline for farmers to enroll in the 2015 Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has been extended to March 13. Farmers now have an additional two weeks to submit applications for new contracts. The deadline for farmers to renew existing contracts is still March 31.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has also released full information on the CSP enhancements available for 2015. There are 119 enhancements offered this year, including several new enhancements directed toward soil health. The highest scoring enhancement is a new soil health crop rotation enhancement, which requires a resource-conserving crop to be grown for at least two consecutive years and for annual crops to be preceded or followed by a cover crop. Participating farmers then have a choice of two out of seven associated soil health practices to complement the resulting rotation.
There are also several new wildlife related practices, such as forest stand improvement for soil health and wildlife, and creation and retention of wildlife habitat in trees.
While farmers may apply for a CSP contract at any time, applicants who file after the deadline will not be able to start their contracts until 2016. Recently re-authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, CSP offers payments to farmers who maintain and expand conservation on working farmland.
For farmers who practice stewardship on working farmland, CSP can be a useful tool to help offset the costs and risks of new conservation measures while providing some support for ongoing stewardship activities. Working lands eligible for CSP enrollment include cropland, pastureland, rangeland and non-industrial forestland.
“CSP helps me integrate newer conservation practices into my production,” said Darwyn Bach, a Land Stewardship Project member, crop farmer and CSP contract-holder from Boyd, Minn. “I like best that it is farmer-friendly: it’s a tool that supports farmers to make their own conservation choices that work best for their farms.”
Current CSP contract holders who joined the program in 2011 are also now eligible to renew their enrollment for an additional five years. The deadline for renewal applications is March 31. Applicants are not required to participate in the program, but those who wish to consider 2015 enrollment must submit their application by the deadline in order to continue with the enrollment process.
Payments to farmers for CSP vary depending on total acres enrolled, land classification, conservation achieved and conservation to be obtained by the end of the five-year contract.
Minnesota currently leads the nation in number of CSP contracts and in total dollars paid to farmers through the program. Farmers can contact their local NRCS office for applications and additional guidance.
For more information, visit the NRCS CSP webpage.
Megan Buckingham is an Land Stewardship Project organizer. More information on LSP’s federal policy work is here.