USDA releases conservation program rule targeting certain watersheds


WASHINGTON – The USDA finally released a proposed rule to implement the new Conservation Security Program Dec. 17.

Authorized by the 2002 farm bill, the program met with efforts to scale back the program before it even got started.

Targets watersheds. The program is designed to reward the best conservation stewards of the most environmentally sensitive areas in targeted watersheds.

The rule proposes to prioritize eligibility based on selected priority watersheds.

The eligible watersheds would be announced and identified through a signup, targeted for next summer.

What’s eligible. Under the proposal, agricultural land in cropland, orchards, vineyards, pasture and range will be eligible for the Conservation Security Program, regardless of size, location or crops produced.

Exceptions are forest land or land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program or Grassland Reserve Program.

Applicants must address water quality and soil quality concerns as program eligibility criteria.

Enrollment will be targeted to those demonstrating the highest levels of stewardship.

Payment. Both new and existing conservation practices are eligible for payments. Farmers can enter into five- or 10-year contracts.

Payment limitations will be based on three “tiers” that represent increasing levels of resource treatment. Payments rise with increased levels of treatment.

Payments can include four components:

1) an annual base component for the benchmark conservation treatment,

2) an annual existing practice component for maintaining existing conservation practices,

3) a one-time new practice component for implementing additional practices, and

4) an enhancement component for exceptional conservation effort.

Payment cap. The three tiers are capped at $20,000, $35,000 and $45,000 annually and will last for five years for Tier I and 5-10 years for Tier II and Tier III.

Lots of interest. Earlier this year, an advance notice of proposed rulemaking generated more than 700 responses and 3,000 specific comments on all aspects of the program.

The proposed rule, as well as additional information on CSP and other conservation programs, is available on the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Web site,

More time to comment. This proposed rule has a 60-day comment period.

As part of the comment process, listening sessions will be held in a number of locations, still to be determined.

Comments on the CSP proposed rule may be sent to or by mail to Conservation Security Program Comments, attn: David McKay, NRCS Conservation Operations Division, P.O. Box 2890, Washington, D.C. 20013.


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