The cutoff date for farmers and ranchers to apply to participate in the 2012 sign-up for the Conservation Stewardship Program has been extended by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) until January 27. By this date, farmers and ranchers interested in participating in the program need to submit a short two-page application form to their local NRCS office.
"NRCS has announced that the cutoff date for the current Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) application ranking period has been extended to Jan. 27, 2012," says Richard Sims, head of NRCS in Iowa. "Producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship are eligible for CSP Payments."
The program provides many conservation benefits including improvement of water and soil quality, wildlife habit enhancements and adoption of conservation activities that address the effects of climate change. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forest land and ag land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe. Participation in the program is voluntary.
Conservation Stewardship Program Signup Extended to January 27
An updated CSP self-screening checklist is available to help potential applicants determine if CSP is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, contract obligations and potential payments. It is available from local NRCS offices and on the Iowa NRCS website at www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/ConservationStewardshipProgram.html.
To apply or to find out more about CSP, visit your local USDA Service Center or go online to www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov.
"We applaud USDA for extending the signup by two weeks," says Greg Fogel, a policy specialist with the National Sustainable Ag Coalition. "The bulk of the original sign-up period was scheduled to run during year-end holiday season. USDA is warranted in making this extra time available for sign-up--in our view."
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which helped develop the program and has followed its progress closely over the years, has issued a five-page Information Alert on the 2012 sign-up. The document is available free online at www.sustainableagriculture.net. In addition to basic sign-up information and pointers, the Alert also describes and explains changes made to the CSP program for this sign-up, including new conservation practices and enhancements being offered.
New conservation practices and other changes made in CSP program
The CSP is a working lands conservation program available on a nationwide basis. CSP offers technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers for adopting and maintaining high standards of resource conservation and environmental stewardship. Assistance is geared to both the active management of existing conservation systems and for implementing new conservation activities on land in agricultural production.
In the program's first three enrollment years (2009, 2010 and 2011) NRCS has enrolled 30,197 farmers and ranchers nationwide--operating nearly 38 million acres of farm and ranch land that is now under five-year, renewable CSP conservation contracts. For those first three enrollment classes, annual CSP payments are currently over $510 million a year on a nationwide basis.
The enrollment process is competitive, based on environmental benefits, and will be even more competitive than usual in 2012 as the total acres to be enrolled will be as much as a third less than the 12.8 million acre per year level provided by the 2008 Farm Bill. The 2012 version of CSP will have an enrollment cap between 9 million and 10 million acres nationally, due to a budget cut to the program made by Congress in the FY 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Act.
Enrollment process now even more competitive, with tighter cap on acreage
Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forest lands, and agricultural land under tribal jurisdiction. Applicants must demonstrate they have effective control over these lands to be eligible, either through ownership or reasonably secure leases.
Producers wanting more detailed information may want to review NSAC's Farmers' Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program available for free download at http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/. The Guide provides clear information on conservation activities eligible for CSP payments to improve conservation performance and environmental benefits. It also includes step-by-step enrollment guidance, key definitions, and helpful hints.
The National Sustainable Ag Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of ag, natural resources and rural communities.
Wetlands Reserve Program applications due to USDA by Feb. 17
NRCS also made another major announcement last week. The agency says Feb. 17, 2012 will be the next cutoff date to submit applications through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) for Iowa landowners interested in restoring agricultural land to natural wetlands.
WRP is a voluntary program that provides technical and financial assistance to eligible private landowners and tribes to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring eligible land from agriculture. WRP is a continuous signup program, although NRCS periodically makes funding selections as program funding allows. February 17 is the second cutoff date for fiscal year 2012 funding.
During fiscal year 2011, NRCS enrolled easements on more than 4,000 acres across Iowa at a value exceeding $15 million. Over the past 20 years, more than 156,000 acres have been restored or are in the process of being restored to wetlands in Iowa through WRP and similar federal programs.
This year 10% of Iowa's WRP allocation is to go to historically underserved landowners
This fiscal year, NRCS in Iowa is setting aside 10% of its WRP allocation for beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, and limited resource producers. "We are committed to improving service to private landowners and enhancing outreach to historically underserved landowners," says Monica Monk, easement program coordinator for NRCS in Iowa.
Wetlands provide habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals; reduce flooding; recharge groundwater; protect biological diversity; and provide opportunities for educational, scientific, and limited recreational activities.
To apply or to find out more about WRP eligibility and enrollment options, visit your local USDA Service Center or go online to www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/WRP.html.