Farmers and ranchers interested in implementing conservation on their operations can get valuable technical and financial support from programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
In Nebraska, the deadline to submit initial paperwork is Nov. 19. Administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, these working lands conservation programs provide a framework for producers to address natural resources concerns while maintaining agricultural production.
Experience with programs
Will Corman has taken advantage of these unique programs for nearly a decade. He returned to his family’s Nuckolls County farm in 2014, where he helps his father, uncle and cousin manage about 5,000 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans, as well as 125 cow-calf pairs. For them, applying for CSP was an obvious choice.
“It’s a good way to get financial support to try something new,” he says. Corman notes that risk management is a key element of farming, and investing in any new practice comes with an err of caution for many producers. These conservation programs are a good way to alleviate some of those risks, he says.
While CSP and EQIP both exist to support conservation efforts, there are two key differences that set them apart: scope and who is eligible to apply.
CSP is designed to enhance existing conservation efforts operation-wide and requires applicants to demonstrate they are addressing regional resource concerns with conservation practices. In addition, they must be willing to implement additional practices, such as cover crops, rotational grazing or conservation crop rotation as part of the contract.
In contrast to the holistic nature of CSP, EQIP allows producers to address a particular resource concern, such as erosion or water quality, with a single practice or project, and no prior conservation experience is required.
Using both programs
Like many farmers, the Cormans have used both EQIP and CSP to address resource concerns and improve the health of their farm over time. The programs also provided incentive for the family to upgrade to more advanced precision agriculture technology that may otherwise have been out of reach.
“Funding from CSP has helped us invest in some of these tools,” Corman says, listing GPS mapping software, increased section control and variable rate-controllers as examples. Combined with soil and tissue sampling, they are able to apply chemicals and fertilizer responsibly and efficiently — a win-win for their pocketbook and the environment.
When offering advice to new applicants, Corman says there’s no shame in leaning on someone who’s already been through the process. In 2020 alone, Nebraska had 883 EQIP and 128 CSP contracts statewide, indicating there may be plenty of advice to go around. In addition, he notes the value of a dedicated NRCS representative in guiding the process from start to finish.
“Implementing conservation on your own ground, under your own management, really allows you to prove to yourself that these practices work, and support means a lot throughout that process,” Corman says.
Get applications in
Farmers and ranchers interested in applying for CSP or EQIP should contact their local NRCS office as soon as possible to set up an appointment. A list of local offices can be found at offices.sc.egov.usda.gov. Operations of all sizes are encouraged to apply.
To prepare producers for a visit with USDA, the Center for Rural Affairs has released a series of fact sheets that answer frequently asked questions about these programs. The resources can be found at cfra.org/publications under the title, “What to Know about Implementing Conservation Practices.”
Olson is with the Center for Rural Affairs.