The Conservation Stewardship Program received a financial reprieve last week thanks to passage of the Continuing Resolution legislation by Congress, which replaces funding for 2013 enrollment in CSP. Funding for the CSP, a popular USDA program, was previouHsly cut off in the government spending bill that was passed last October.
Given the funding delay, farmers now face a tight deadline to enroll in the program which is offered by USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service. Practical Farmers of Iowa suggests farmers enroll before the busy planting season begins. Though the program is a continuous-signup program, NRCS sets a cut-off date for applications to be considered during the fiscal year. Once the cut-off date is past, applications will not be considered for entry until the spring of the following year. While NRCS has yet to decide on a deadline for this year's applications (it will likely be in May) that is when farmers are busiest.
CSP provides Iowa farmers with technical assistance and financial incentives for many of the voluntary conservation practices outlined in the recently introduced Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy; practices such as the planting of cover crops, soil testing for nutrient management and rotational grazing. The program is offered through five-year contracts and farmers can tailor their applications for improved water quality, soil health or wildlife habitat options on their farms.
CSP is one of the most innovative programs for working lands conservation
"As a farmer in the program, I know how important CSP is to farmers," says Guthrie County farmer and Practical Farmers of Iowa board member Earl Hafner. "It's a reward for those already making the extra effort to farm in a way that protects Iowa's air, soil and water. For others it's an incentive to switch to more sustainable farming practices."
CSP is one of the most innovative working lands conservation initiatives, he points out. In the program's first four years, 50 million acres have been enrolled by nearly 39,000 farmers nationwide -- more than any other farm conservation program over that same period. The 2013 enrollment is expected to cover an additional 12 million acres. The program is available for all types of farm operations, including cropland, pastureland, rangeland or forested acres.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
CSP offers technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers for adopting and maintaining high standards of resource conservation and environmental stewardship. Assistance is provided for actively managing and improving existing conservation systems and for implementing new conservation activities. The enrollment process is competitive, based on conservation and environmental benefits.
Sign up is simple and there's a hotline to assist producers who have questions
Sign up is simple and it only takes about 15 minutes to fill out the two-page application. There is no commitment needed to sign up -- the key is to get the application submitted. Potential applicants should visit their NRCS local service center; ask for form NRCS-CPA-1200. Those seeking application assistance can call the Center for Rural Affairs Farm Bill Hotline at 402-687-2100.
"The Continuing Resolution legislation passed by Congress last week removes the remaining obstacles to farmers and ranchers having the opportunity to enroll in CSP this year," says Traci Bruckner, assistant policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs at Lyons, Neb. "It is a welcome move by Congress to address this oversight because there are farmers and ranchers who have been waiting to sign up for this program and each year there are twice as many, or more, applying than can receive contracts under available funding."
Every year there are more farmers and ranchers waiting to sign up for CSP
According to Bruckner, USDA can now proceed with enrolling just over 11 million acres of farm and ranch land in the program this year, bringing the program to a grand total of 62 million acres by year's end. The funding error was fixed by a bill that would provide continuing funding for the federal government for the next six months -- the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. The Senate passed the bill on a 73 to 26 vote on March 20, followed by passage in the House of Representatives on March 21 by a vote of 318 to 109.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
"We've pressed for this result since last October when the first government funding bill accidentally shut off CSP enrollment for 2013, so we want to celebrate this," adds Bruckner. "And we're going to continue working with farmers and ranchers who want to apply to the program."
You need to apply for CSP funding before cut-off date, which will likely be in May
Bruckner encourages potential applicants to move forward now, before planting season is underway and many become too busy in the field to get away. While CSP is a continuous signup program and producers can apply to enroll at any time of the year, USDA applies a cut-off date for applications to be considered during a particular fiscal year. Once the cut-off date is past, producers may continue to apply for the program, but they will not be considered for entry until the spring of the following year, in this case spring of 2014.
"We know the previous sign-ups have yielded some great success stories for farmers and ranchers, but also some disappointments and frustrations," Bruckner continues. "That's why we want farmers, ranchers and others to call the Center for Rural Affairs' Farm Bill Helpline with questions about the application process and to share their experiences, both positive and negative."
Short timeline should provide motivation for farmers to sign up now for CSP
While NRCS has yet to decide on a deadline for farmer and rancher applications, there is speculation it will likely be in May. That short timeline should provide further motivation for farmers and ranchers to visit their local NRCS office now and start the application process right away, says Bruckner.
"CSP is one of the most popular conservation programs at NRCS, enrolling nearly 39,000 farmers and ranchers operating 50 million acres of farm and ranch land under five-year CSP conservation contracts worth $3.5 billion," she adds. "Through our helpline you will speak to someone who is knowledgeable about the program rules to help you understand how to participate in the program."
Potential applicants can visit their NRCS local service center here for more information.