Conservation Stewardship Program begins continuous sign-ups

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Agriculture began continuous sign-up for the new Conservation Stewardship Program Aug. 10 with the first sign-up period cutoff scheduled for Sept. 30.

Voluntary program

Conservation Stewardship Program is a voluntary program that encourages agricultural and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation activities and adopt additional ones on their operations.

The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 farm bill) authorizes the Conservation Stewardship Program. Congress renamed and revamped the former Conservation Security Program completely to improve its availability and appeal to agricultural and forestry producers.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service administers the program.

Eligible lands

Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forestland — a new land use for the program — and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

Eligible applicants may include individual landowners, legal entities and Indian tribes. The program will be offered to producers in all 50 states, District of Columbia and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups.

Agricultural and forestry producers must submit applications by Sept. 30 to be considered for funding in the first ranking period.

Congress capped the annual acreage enrollment at 12,769,000 acres for each fiscal year nationwide.

Self-screening checklist

To apply for the newly revamped program, potential participants will be encouraged to use a self-screening checklist first to determine whether the new program is suitable for them or their operation.

It will be available on the Natural Resources Conservation Service Web sites and at Natural Resources Conservation Service field offices.

After self-screening, the producer’s current and proposed conservation practices are entered in the conservation measurement tool.

This tool estimates the level of environmental performance to be achieved by a producer implementing and maintaining conservation activity.

The conservation performance estimated by the tool will be used to rank applications. States will determine their own priority resource concerns, one of the criteria that will be used to rank applications.

Ranking pools

States will establish ranking pools to rank applications with similar resource concerns. Natural Resources Conservation Service field staff also will conduct on-site field verifications of applicants’ information obtained from the conservation measurement tool.

Once the potential participant has been field verified and approved for funding, he or she must develop a conservation stewardship plan.

More information

For information about the Conservation Stewardship Program, including eligibility requirements, producers can visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/new_csp or visit their local Natural Resources Conservation Service field office.

USDA is finalizing the program’s policies and procedures. The Conservation Stewardship Program interim final rule, published in the Federal Register, is open for public comment through Sept. 28.

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