December 1, 2016
FAQ: In early November USDA announced the beginning of the 2017 sign-up period for the Conservation Stewardship Program. USDA has made some big changes in the rules for this program, which go into effect in 2017. Please explain the changes.
Answer: This is the most significant overhaul of the Conservation Stewardship Program in eight years. Following the recent release by USDA of the “reinvented” CSP, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has published updated resources designed to support farmers considering an application to the program. NSAC was instrumental in developing CSP, which is today the nation’s largest working lands conservation program.
CSP supports farmers and ranchers in their efforts to actively manage and expand conservation activities on their agricultural lands. As part of NSAC’s commitment to empowering and educating family farmers nationwide, NSAC is providing a free online guidebook, the “Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program”, since the program’s inception.
Sign up for 2017 CSP now, well before Feb. 3 deadline
The 2017 sign-up period for the CSP program officially opened on November 14. Farmers and ranchers have until February 3, 2017 to submit the initial CSP application, which consists of a simple form that asks for information regarding land ownership, type of production and contact information. Although farmers can sign up for CSP anytime throughout the year, those who miss the February 3 deadline will not be considered for the program until 2018.
This year, outreach to potential CSP applicants is particularly important, given the significant changes the program has undergone. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, undertook the CSP reinvention with the intent of making the program more transparent, flexible and farmer-friendly. In order to meet these objectives, it will be critical to ensure that potential participants are well aware of the CSP opportunities and application process.
Important to take correct steps when applying
“In order to be considered for CSP in 2017, farmers must submit their initial application before the February 3 deadline,” says Alyssa Charney, farm program policy specialist at NSAC. “The next two months therefore will be the critical period for engaging farmers so they know what the CSP changes mean for them and so they can assess whether the program is a good fit for their farming operation.”
NSAC and its 117 member organizations support farmers and ranchers nationwide in their efforts to apply for and participate in CSP, says Charney. To aid those efforts, NSAC’s CSP 2017 Information Alert and updated “Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program” provide the step-by-step sign-up and enrollment details producers need to easily access and benefit from this redesigned version of CSP.
Additional details and program tools are available
While the updates to CSP have been a long time coming, the first time potential applicants will be able to access the details of the reinvention will be during this sign-up window. NRCS has posted several program tools and the revised conservation activity choices online. However, there remain many additional details and important program tools NRCS has yet to make public.
“To make informed decisions about their CSP applications, farmers and ranchers need to be able to review the new payment schedules, as well as be able to see and understand the new eligibility and ranking tools,” says Charney. “NSAC strongly supports the public release of all details of the CSP reinvention as early as possible. And we continue to urge NRCS to make the full details and all the relevant program tools available to farmers well before the February 3 deadline.”
Use these tools to help you understand CSP program
With the complete release of the reinvention details still pending, NSAC’s CSP 2017 Information Alert and “Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program” are available for free online as tools to help farmers determine if CSP is right for them. This year’s information alert includes step-by-step sign-up and enrollment details. It also walks farmers through the 2017 changes to the program, including the following updated tools, resource and provisions:
New eligibility tool – the Conservation Activity Evaluation Tool (CAET)
New ranking tool – the Application, Evaluation, and Ranking Tool (AERT)
Minimum contract payment information
New added flexibility for mid-contract changes
Expanded options for enhancements, practices, and bundles
Redesigned payment structure.
NSAC’s detailed “Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program” includes enrollment guidance, key definitions, explanations of the ranking, and payment system and helpful hints for accessing the program. The CSP Information Alert and the Farmers’ Guide to CSP are available for free download on the NSAC website at sustainableagriculture.net/publications.
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