USDA Funding Available
The Conservation Stewardship Program
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is now accepting initial applications from farmers and ranchers who want to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program designed to help farmers and ranchers protect and improve natural resources and the environment on productive and profitable farms. Through CSP, farmers and ranchers receive technical and financial assistance to improve, maintain, and actively manage existing conservation systems and to implement additional conservation activities on land in agricultural production. Currently there are nearly 70 million acres of land enrolled in the program, and the 2014 Farm Bill provided funding to enroll an additional 10 million acres in 2016.
Farmers interested in participating in CSP can submit applications at any time. Contracts span 5 years and are awarded to producers competitively, and applications received after the deadline are considered for the next round of funding, although USDA is planning a major overhaul to the program, including changes to the structure, ranking process, and conservation activities. For producers who receive CSP contracts, payments are awarded on a per-acre basis, and are determined by multiple factors, including the costs incurred (for planning, design, materials, installation, labor, management, maintenance or training), income forgone, and expected conservation benefits, as well as the type of agricultural production. Payments average about $18 per acre, with cropland payments higher and pasture and rangeland payments lower. Payments are capped at $40,000 per year and $200,000 over the 5 year contract.
Agricultural producers interested in applying for CSP can go to their local NRCS office and submit the initial application to enroll, which is a simple form that asks for basic information regarding land ownership, type of production, and contact information.The deadline to apply for the current round of funding is March 31, 2016. Farmers with expiring 2012-2016 contracts who want to renew expiring 2012-2016 contracts for another five years also must submit initial applications by March 31, 2016.
Changes to Benefit Northeastern Growers
The 2016 Program Announcement includes a significant change that will benefit small acreage growers, such as many of those found in the Northeast. USDA will now set a contract payment floor of $1500. This is an improvement over last year's contract payment floor of $1,000, which was only available to beginning, socially disadvantaged, and limited resource farmers. We hope that this change will both expand the number of small-scale producers who enroll acreage in CSP and increase the number of acres enrolled in CSP in the Northeast, currently the region with the lowest number of acres enrolled. The map below shows how many acres were enrolled in each state in 2014.
USDA's Conservation Stewardship Program webpage
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's (NSAC) CSP 2016 Signup blog post
NSAC's CSP Information Alert and Farmers Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program which provides instructions on how to sign up and enroll in CSP