FAQ: USDA has announced the 2016 sign-up period for the Conservation Stewardship Program. I’m told I have until March 31 to complete the initial CSP application. Also, while applicants can sign up for CSP anytime throughout the year, those who miss the March 31 deadline will not be considered until 2017. Is this true?
Answer: USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced February 4 that it is accepting applications at local offices for newly available funding through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), USDA’s largest conservation program that helps farmers voluntarily improve conservation efforts on private working lands.
NRCS accepts applications for CSP throughout the year, but producers should submit applications by March 31 to their local USDA Service Center to ensure they are considered for enrollment in 2016. Current CSP participants with expiring contracts on Dec. 31 have the option to renew their contracts for an additional five years if they agree to adopt additional activities to achieve higher levels of conservation on their land. Renewal applications are also due March 31.
Earn higher payments for higher performance
The program emphasizes conservation performance; producers earn higher payments for higher performance. Through CSP, producers install conservation enhancements to make positive changes in soil health, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, animal resources and energy. Last year, Iowa NRCS obligated $11.6 million through 1,008 contracts covering 578,411 acres.
Southeast Iowa dairy farmer David Petersen was awarded a CSP contract for his efforts as a successful land steward. “USDA has been a partner with us from day one,” says Petersen. “I consider myself a poster child for what can happen when you combine good public policy and funding with good private initiative.”
Through CSP, Petersen performed such conservation activities as an on-farm energy audit, incorporating cover crop mixes on his cropland, and using nitrogen provided from animal manure to supply 100% of the corn crop’s nutrient needs.
CSP supports Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy
CSP also supports the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy through various conservation activities. The Iowa strategy includes practices designed to reduce nutrient loads from nonpoint sources such as farm fields. Some popular CSP nutrient reduction enhancements used by Iowa farmers include:
•Cover crops to scavenge residual nitrogen;
•Precision application technology to apply nutrients;
•Split nitrogen application (50% after crop emergence or pasture green-up);
•Plant tissue tests and analysis to improve nitrogen management.
A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types. Learn more about CSP by visiting the Iowa NRCS website or your local NRCS field office.
NOTE: This year’s sign-up deadline carries particular significance, as a major program overhaul is scheduled for 2017. In order for producers to enroll in CSP under its existing structure, ranking process, and current conservation activities, they must apply by the March 31 deadline.