The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now accepting applications to re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) through May 5, 2017. This renewal option is specifically for farmers and ranchers who enrolled in CSP initially in 2013.
CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program that provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to actively manage and maintain existing conservation systems and to implement additional conservation activities on land in production. Through CSP, participants take steps to improve soil, water, air, and habitat quality, and can also address water quantity and energy conservation issues.
CSP contracts last for five years, at which time they are eligible for renewal. There are approximately 7,000 farmers and ranchers with CSP contracts that will expire this year, totaling over 9.5 million acres that need to be re-enrolled to preserve and expand upon critical environmental benefits. In Illinois, there are 251 contracts expiring, totaling 188,731 acres.
It Pays to Renew
It is optional to renew an expiring contract, and participants who do not re-enroll can always re-apply and compete for funding in future annual CSP signups. However, there is significant benefit to renewing now: the process for renewing is non-competitive and much simpler than re-applying through the competitive process later, and participants will avoid any gaps in their CSP payments that would otherwise occur.
NRCS has already mailed letters to all CSP participants with contracts that are set to expire this year. The producer must then sign up for the renewal offer by May 5, 2017. Local NRCS offices will then follow up with the producer to discuss renewal criteria and new conservation options; the producer then can decide whether to sign up for another five-ear contract.
Participants will need to meet additional renewal criteria. Under the terms of the 2014 Farm Bill, CSP contract holders can renew their contracts provided: they have met the terms of their initial contract; agree to adopt and continue to integrate conservation activities across the entire operation; and agree to either meet the stewardship threshold of at least two additional priority resource concerns or exceed the stewardship threshold of at least two existing priority resource concerns by the end of the renewed contract period.
For more information on the program and the process for signing up, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released two free resources. NSAC’s newly revised Information Alert includes details on how to renew expiring contracts, as well as details regarding the changes that were part of the recent CSP “Reinvention,” which included major changes to the program this year. These changes are particularly important to participants renewing this year, as their renewal process will look significantly different from when they first enrolled in 2013.
The Information Alert lists these conservation activities in order of their conservation and environmental point values. The higher the point value, the greater the expected environmental benefit and thus the greater weight they have in terms of both ranking the application among other CSP applications, and calculating the ultimate CSP financial assistance payment the producer will receive.
NSAC has also published an updated version of our Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program. Download the comprehensive guide from NSAC’s website.
The renewal process should be fairly simple. Producers with expiring contracts can contact their local NRCS office with any questions about the renewal process.