Applications Now Open for 2018 Conservation Stewardship Program

LSP Urges Farmers to Apply to this Working Lands Conservation Program Before the March 2 Deadline

American farmers and ranchers have until March 2 to submit an initial fiscal year 2018 application for the nation's largest working lands program—the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This program is administered by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

While applicants can apply for CSP anytime throughout the year, the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project urges interested producers to submit applications before the March 2 deadline to ensure that they are considered for enrollment in fiscal year 2018. To apply, farmers and ranchers can go to their local NRCS office and submit the initial application, which consists of a simple form that asks for basic information regarding land ownership, type of production and contact information.

Once the initial application is accepted by NRCS, producers are then scored based on current and planned future conservation activities. If applicants meet acceptable conservation criteria, they become eligible to compete in a ranking process that determines who will receive contracts. NRCS works down through the list of eligible applicants until acreage allocated to the particular state for that particular year runs out.

Farmers and ranchers interested in CSP application support materials can find assistance through the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), of which LSP is a member. The NSAC website will publishan updated Information Alert with step-by-step sign-up instructions and a complete list of all available conservation activities as details from NRCS become available. Interested producers can also utilize NSAC’s Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which was updated last year to reflect the latest enrollment guidance and includes key definitions, explanations of the ranking and payment system, and helpful hints for accessing the program.

Over 72 million acres of land across the country—roughly 8 percent of all agricultural land—is currently enrolled in whole-farm CSP conservation contracts. The significant amount of working lands already enrolled in CSP, and the fact that in recent years CSP has had to turn away as many as 75 percent of qualified applicants, is evidence of the voluntary conservation program’s enormous popularity. CSP’s ability to enroll qualified farmers is largely contingent on available federal funds. The 2014 Farm Bill reduced CSP’s annual enrollment from 12.8 million acres to 10 million acres, which resulted in thousands of qualified farmers being turned away from the program.

Minnesota led the nation in new and renewing contracts during last year’s sign-up, with 742 farmers and ranchers enrolling in the program. Cumulative total acres enrolled in CSP in Minnesota amounts to over 3 million acres, or nearly 13 percent of the state's land in agricultural production.

During the 2018 sign-up period, NRCS will enroll an additional 10 million acres of cropland, pastureland, rangeland and forestland in CSP. Current participants whose initial contracts are set to expire at the end of the year will also have the opportunity to renew their contracts for an additional five-year period; USDA will announce a separate deadline for renewals in coming weeks.

"CSP is a wonderful program,” said Tom Nuessmeier, a Land Stewardship Project farmer-member from Saint Peter, Minn. Nuessmeier is currently in his ninth year of participating in CSP, having applied for a new contract in 2014. “It helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices over their entire farming operation.”

The 2018 CSP sign-up is especially significant because it is the final enrollment opportunity under the authority provided by the 2014 Farm Bill, which is set to expire Sept. 30.

“America’s farmers and ranchers enrolled in CSP, and frankly everyone who benefits from this valuable investment in our land, water and quality habitat, will need to keep a close eye on the Farm Bill process this year,” said Nuessmeier, who is also an LSP organizer.

“CSP has been targeted for significant cuts, or even elimination, and we are asking everyone with a stake in agriculture’s impact on our environment to take action to protect it," added Nuessmeier. "Despite this threat, the over 53,000 farming and ranching families with CSP contracts nationwide continue to maintain and improve the levels of conservation on their working farms, and LSP will continue to work with farmers, ranchers and lawmakers to ensure that CSP continues to deliver real conservation benefits as well as fair and meaningful payments to the men and women farming in a way that makes this possible.”

CSP is a priority in LSP’s "Our Farm Bill" campaign, which is communicating directly to members of Congress the value of protecting, restoring and expanding this valuable program in the 2018 Farm Bill.