Conservation Stewardship Program: Cash-in on Conservation

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Dave Moose planting soybeans into standing cover crops near Auburn, Illinois

Sangamon County farmer Dave Moose works to get his soybean crops planted into the standing cover crop acres while conditions are favorable. Dave has been a no-till farmer for almost 30 years. In the last few years he has added cover crops into his farming operation. “I remember going to see Jim Kinsella, an innovative farmer from the Bloomington area, explain the benefits of using no-till on his farm. It has always been important to me to farm in a way that optimizes the efficient use of inputs while improving soil health. I saw no-till then, and cover crops now, as a combination of practices that help me achieve those two goals.  I’m using the Conservation Stewardship Program as an effective way for me to transition into using cover crops,” says Dave Moose.  Dave has taken advantage of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to help with the technical and financial transition of using new conservation improvements like cover crops in his operation. CSP is different from most conservation programs in that it rewards farmers like Dave Moose for conservation practices that they have already implemented in their operations, such as no-till, and also rewards them for the adoption of new conservation enhancements, like planting a cover crop that will scavenge residual nutrients and help improve soil health.  Other conservation activities in Dave’s CSP contract have to do with nutrient efficiency.

CSP is a competitive program that works to achieve improved environmental benefits by scoring and then financially rewarding the conservation efforts of CSP applicants for the best current and planned conservation activities. There are about 120 conservation activities listed under the Conservation Stewardship Program for farmers to choose from. If you are a farmer who is currently using good conservation practices, like no-till or protective buffer strips, and want to add some new management practices, then CSP is perfect for you. First, you apply at your local NRCS office. Sign up is ongoing and you can apply any time during the year. Your application will be considered for acceptance during the next scheduled ranking process deadline. All contracts will be for 5 years in length. You will receive technical and financial support annually throughout the length of the contract. If you are willing to add new conservation activities at the end of the contract period you can apply to re-enroll for 5 more years.

The 2014 Farm Bill has focused a lot of importance and finances into rewarding good conservation land managers.  The Conservation Stewardship Program is a good tool in achieving the conservation concerns that Illinois farmers will be facing in the coming years. I would encourage conservation minded farmers to sign up for the Conservation Stewardship Program or EQUIP as a tool to help us as a concerned group of land operators, in solving issues in the Mississippi River Basin that we now all face, before these quality and quantity issues become mandated. The agricultural industry has such a great influence on the outcome of our culture like no other industry. By adding the right farming practices to our agricultural system, we can reduce, stop, or even improve our culture and environment like no other industry. Right now the facts are showing that the effects of some of our agricultural practices need to change. The nutrients we apply to grow our crops has to be managed to reduce the losses of those nutrients from our targeted field. By following the 4-R’s being promoted by the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices, applying the Right source, Right rate, Right time and Right place will make a more efficient use of nutrients and save money by applying less. Combining a practice like the 4-R’s with no-till or strip-till and cover crops will undoubtedly improve farming efficiency and foster good soil health.

By: Woody Woodruff