The final rules for the Conservation Stewardship Program have been published, according to Bruce Petersen, Nevada state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. CSP is a voluntary program that offers payments to producers who exercise good land stewardship and want to improve their conservation performance.
“The new rules are simpler and targeted to addressing additional environmental problems,” said Bruce Petersen, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the agency administering the program.
Petersen said applications will be accepted until June 25, 2010. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis but the cutoff for this year’s funding is June 25.
Administered by the NRCS, CSP is available to all producers regardless of operation size, crops produced, or geographic location. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forest land, and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe. CSP retains the broad features outlined in the interim final rule, including:
- CSP pays participants for conservation performance – the higher the performance, the higher the payment.
- Producers get credit both for conservation measures they have already implemented and for new measures they agree to add.
- CSP is offered in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-up, with announced cut-off dates for ranking and funding applications.
The experience gained during the program’s first year, and comments received from partners and the public during the 90-day public comment period, have contributed to a number of important changes in the program rules. The program’s new features include the following:
- Higher payment rate for additional conservation performance. USDA is implementing a split payment structure, with one payment rate for existing conservation activities and a higher payment rate for new activities. This is expected to encourage producers to apply more new activities and thereby generate greater environmental benefits.
- Higher payment limit. The total contract limitation for joint operations is increased from $200,000 to $400,000, with annual payment limits increased from $40,000 to $80,000 to fairly compensate joint operations that produce environmental benefit levels needed to earn the payments. (The payment limitations for individual participants and entities other than joint operations remained the same at $40,000 per year or $200,000 for a 5 year contract.)
- New minimum payment. To directly encourage participation by small-scale, historically underserved producers, the rule establishes a minimum payment of $1,000.
- Pastured cropland. “Pastured cropland” is added as a new designation with a higher payment than “pastureland” because of the greater income foregone by producers who maintain a grass-based livestock production system on land suitable for cropping.
- Enhancements. Some conservation enhancements work better when implemented as a system and under the new rule are offered as enhancement “bundles.” Participants who implement such comprehensive bundles get higher rankings and higher payments. An example of a bundle that could be used in Nevada includes monitoring key grazing areas, managing livestock access to water bodies (where water bodies exist), retrofitting watering facilities for wildlife escape, patching burned areas to enhance wildlife habitat, managing grazing to improve wildlife habitat, and rotating feeding areas.
- Resource-conserving crop rotation. In response to extensive public comment, the definition of “resource-conserving crop rotation” is revised to require the use of grass and/or legumes. Since resource-conserving crops receive supplemental payments under CSP, the rule change ensures that the crops provide a sufficient level of environmental benefit.
The following is an example of average payments could have been received in the last sign up:
|Cropland annual payment
|Pasture annual payment
|Rangeland annual payment
Overall payment rates will be similar for this sign up. Payments will be determined by several factors including the number of eligible land use acres, land use existing activity conservation performance points (CMT Tool), and the land use existing activity payment rate plus additional activity annual payment by land use.
Other changes in the regulation give producers greater flexibility in establishing their eligibility to apply for CSP and in certifying their control of the land.
Potential applicants are encouraged to use the CSP self-screening checklist to determine whether CSP is suitable for their operation and apply prior to the closing date of June 25, 2010, when applications will be scored, ranked, and funded. The checklist, which highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, contract obligations, and payments, and additional information about CSP, may be obtained from the national CSP Web site (www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/new_csp/csp.html).
USDA published the CSP interim final rule on July 29, 2009, and solicited comment through October 28, 2009. Initially scheduled to end on September 28, 2009, the comment period was extended to encourage comments throughout the program’s first enrollment period. NRCS received 1,534 comments and reviewed and considered each one. Responses to the comments are incorporated in the final rule released today. The final rule can be viewed at: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-12699.pdf.