By Drake Larsen
Iowa farmers with expiring CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) contracts have until Friday September 12, 2014 to re-enroll their contract. Re-enrolling is optional but it has benefits. Farmers who re-enroll will have no gaps in their CSP payments and can avoid the competitive bidding process later on. There is no obligation and the re-enrollment process is simple, just stop by your local NRCS office. Conservation activities for the renewed contract will need to be selected later this year, says USDA.
Steve Leazer, who farms in Muscatine County in southeast Iowa, was in the first group of CSP contracts and just recently re-enrolled his contract for another 5 years. Leazer, whose current contract obligations include rotational grazing of his heifer herd, and split nitrogen application in his row crops, explains, "CSP helps support the conservation practices I'm already doing and has encouraged me to do more."
Farmers encouraged to visit their NRCS office before Sept. 12
A working lands program, CSP contracts include all eligible land in a farming operation. CSP has continuous enrollment so farmers can sign up anytime, but new farms are only added once per year, typically in winter. Owing to changes in the recently passed 2014 federal farm bill, 10 million new acres will be added to the CSP program in 2015.
As of August 21, USDA reported that 5,328 CSP renewal applications had been processed, out of the approximate 20,000 farms and ranches that are up for potential renewal nationwide. "While renewal applications have dramatically increased in the second half of August, we still have a ways to go," says Tracy Bruckner, senior policy fellow at the Center for Rural Affairs at Lyons, Nebraska. "And we strongly encourage farmers and ranchers that are eligible for renewal to get to their local NRCS office before the September 12 deadline to file their re-enrollment application paperwork."
CSP rewards advanced conservation farming practices
The Conservation Stewardship Program is a voluntary stewardship incentives program, administered by NRCS, designed to reward farmers, ranchers and foresters for maintaining existing conservation, as well as for the adoption of additional conservation measures that provide multiple environmental benefits that run beyond the farm or ranch. This program pays producers for clean water, better soil management, improved habitat, energy efficiency, and other natural resource benefits.
The program rewards advanced conservation across an entire farming or ranching operation and supports the continual improvement of such conservation systems through the contract renewal process. In taking the renewal option, producers agree to continue to integrate conservation activities across their entire operation, as well as undertake additional conservation measures. CSP contracts last for five years, at which time they are eligible for renewal. Producers may be able to renew a contract if they have successfully fulfilled the initial contract and agree to achieve additional conservation objectives.
First set of contract renewals since program began in 2009
The approximately 20,000 farmers and ranchers with CSP contracts that will expire this year manage over 20 million acres that can be re-enrolled to preserve and expand upon critical environmental benefits. This is the first set of contract renewals since the program was launched in 2009.
Renewing an expiring contract is optional, and producers who do not do so can always re-apply and compete for funding in future annual CSP signups. But there are real benefits to re-enrolling now. The renewal process is non-competitive because producers already received competitively awarded contracts and the re-enrollment process is much simpler than the full application process.
USDA mailed letters to all CSP participants with contracts set to expire this year. Re-enrolling farmers and ranchers must sign up for the renewal option by September 12. After this initial renewal period, eligibility determinations and obligations will be completed prior to the end of the 2014 calendar year.
Clearing up a potentially confusing fact about CSP renewal
"We want to be clear about one potentially confusing fact, the group of contacts that are eligible for this renewal period include both the 2009 and 2010 enrollment classes," says Bruckner. "There were two different enrollment periods in 2010, the first was the 2009 class and the second was the 2010 class. Both groups have contracts that are set to expire—on September 30 for the 2009 enrollment and on December 31 for the 2010 enrollment. And both will need to initiate the renewal process by September 12."
The 2009 CSP enrollment class will first have their current contracts extended through December 31 so that both enrollment classes will expire at the end of 2014, Bruckner explains. The bottom line is: If you got your contract in 2010 and you want to renew it, you have to apply for re-enrollment by September 12, 2014, no exceptions.
Drake Larsen is a communications and policy associate with Practical Farmers of Iowa, located in Ames.