As environmental stewards of the land, South Dakota ag producers have a renewed opportunity to be rewarded for protecting and improving the land they operate through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
Enrollment is currently underway as on August 10th USDA began continuous sign-up for the new CSP with the first signup deadline scheduled for September 30.
CSP is a voluntary program that encourages agricultural and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation activities and adopt additional ones on their operations. Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forestland and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.
“CSP is a viable opportunity for producers to receive payback for practices they are already doing or tap incentives for improvements they are considering,” said Bill Chase, president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association.
The CSP program was once limited to specific watersheds but the program is now offered to producers in all 50 states through continuous sign-ups. Eligible applicants include individual landowners, legal entities, and Indian tribes. Agricultural producers must submit applications by Sept. 30 to be considered for funding in the first ranking period. Congress capped the annual acreage enrollment at 12,769,000 acres for each fiscal year nationwide.
South Dakota has nearly 500 thousand acres eligible for the program. The acres are divided between three areas: eastern counties were allocated 107,044 acres; central South Dakota has access to 122,078 acres; and all counties west of the river have 268,903 acres for enrollment. If acres are not utilized fully within the three areas, remaining acre allocations can be utilized by other sections of the state. Similarly and of special note, if all acres are not applied for within South Dakota, unused allocations could potentially be tapped by other states.
“It’s extremely important that South Dakota producers aggressively pursue the acres allocated to our state so that a baseline can be established and acres will not be pulled from our state’s share,” said Chase. “We want to ensure our producers are competitive for incentives now and in the future for the environmental stewardship we are known for.”
To apply for the newly revamped CSP, participants are encouraged to use a self-screening checklist first to determine whether the new program is suitable for them or their operation. It is available on NRCS website and at NRCS field offices. After self-screening, the producer's current and proposed conservation practices are entered in the conservation measurement tool (CMT). This tool estimates the level of environmental performance to be achieved by a producer implementing and maintaining conservation activity. The conservation performance estimated by the CMT will be used to rank applications.
Each state will determine their own priority resource concerns, one of the criteria that will be used to rank applications. States will establish ranking pools to rank applications with similar resource concerns. South Dakota has identified priority resource concerns as water quality, soil erosion, soil quality and plants as their ranking criteria.
NRCS field staff also will conduct on-site field verifications of applicants' information obtained from the CMT. Once the participant has been field verified and approved for funding, a conservation stewardship plan must be developed by the producer.
CSP payments are a reflection of land use type (crop, pasture, range, etc.) and environmental ranking points. Overall CSP payment rates are expected to average $18 per acre nationwide. The rate, however, will vary by land type and the details and total environmental benefits of each contract. Payments will be made in the fall of each year beginning in 2010. Payments are limited to no more than $40,000 per farm per year and $200,000 over the five year life of the program.
For information about CSP, including eligibility requirements and a self-screening checklist visit http://www.sd.nrcs.usda.gov/ or visit your local NRCS field office.