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Serving: IN

Don’t miss chance to enroll in Conservation Stewardship Program

Tom J. Bechman farm equipment in no-till field
QUALIFY? If you already no-till, and especially if you use cover crops, you may qualify for payment through USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program.
Find out what your neighbors already know: You can earn money for your current conservation efforts.

If you already participate in the Conservation Stewardship Program, you know you can receive payments for conservation measures you’ve already taken to protect basic resources. If you don’t participate in CSP, you may think it’s the best-kept secret ever.

“It’s actually one of our more popular programs,” says Jerry Raynor, Indiana state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Indiana producers receive a total of about $10 million per year through this program.

Here’s what you need to know about CSP. Raynor and Adam Heichelbech, Indiana NRCS state program specialist for CSP and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, provide details in this exclusive interview. The next sign-up deadline is Jan. 8.

How does a producer qualify for the Conservation Stewardship Program?

Raynor: It’s similar to applying for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. You must meet certain eligibility requirements, including having farm records through the Farm Service Agency. You can get an application online or by visiting your USDA Service Center.

Heichelbech: There is one thing worth noting: You need to enroll all the land that you operate or control.

How do producers know if they would qualify for the program?

Raynor: If you’re already doing some conservation practices, such as no-tilling, the best way to find out is to apply. CSP is designed to reward producers who have already taken steps to manage their resources, and to give them incentive to take even more steps. Once applications are submitted, they are ranked by NRCS staff based upon several factors, including how many resource concerns producers have already addressed and information about their soils. If you don’t qualify this time or your application doesn’t score high enough to enter the program, it’s still a learning process.

Heichelbech: Your district conservationist can explain how your application was scored and point out areas for improvement. You may find that if you apply for EQIP to address some concerns, whether it’s using cover crops or installing a conservation practice, you will be in a better position to qualify for CSP in the future.   

What kind of payment can producers expect if accepted into the program?

Heichelbech: That varies greatly farm to farm. If accepted, it’s a five-year contract. The average CSP five-year contract in Indiana is about $70,000, divided up and paid out annually. NRCS verifies that you are complying with new practices each year before you receive your payment.

Is there cost sharing for these additional practices if you’re accepted?

Raynor: Yes, it’s included along with the five-year contract when you’re accepted. Remember that it’s a competitive process. We usually only have enough funding for about half the acres that qualify.

If it’s so competitive, why should producers enroll?

Raynor: The more people who apply and learn from the process, hopefully the more people we will have interested in conservation. We want as many people as possible understanding what it takes to meet our environmental challenges and move forward.

If someone is already in CSP, can they enroll again when their contract expires?

Heichelbech: Yes. In fact, they’re encouraged to enroll again. However, they must go through the competitive process. If accepted, they will also agree to doing things to protect their resources even further.   

How do landowners and producers work out arrangements for CSP?

Heichelbech: It’s much like they would for EQIP or other farm programs. If it’s a cash-rent farm, the producer usually receives CSP payments.

Is CSP only for crop producers?

Raynor: Timber producers are also eligible. Plus, the 2018 Farm Bill made an allowance for a CSP grasslands program for producers with fields that have a crop base with FSA but that are in pasture. Ask your local district conservationist for more details.

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