Farmers who want to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) during 2019 have until May 10 to submit applications.
CSP, which is funded by the United State Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), helps farmers and ranchers take management practices on their acres to the next level.
Acronyms aside, CSP is the largest conservation program in the country, with more than 70 million acres of productive agricultural and forest land enrolled. “CSP looks at where a producer is today with their operation and then offers them opportunities through different practices and enhancements,” says South Dakota State Conservationist Jeff Zimprich. “It benefits farmers and their operations and also benefits the natural resources on their land.”
“It continues to be a very effective tool for private landowners working to reach their conservation and management goals,” he says.
The program can help farmers with increased crop yields, decreased inputs, wildlife habitat improvements and increased resilience to weather extremes. CSP is for working lands including cropland, pastureland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forest land and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of a tribe.
South Dakota Leads CSP Enrollment
CSP is a very popular program in South Dakota. “There are more CSP-enrolled acres in South Dakota than in any other state,” Zimprich says. “South Dakota producers really like conservation stewardship!”
“In 2016 we celebrated hitting a milestone of seven million acres enrolled in the program,” says Assistant State Conservationist for Programs Jeff Vander Wilt. “Now we’re probably getting close to nine million acres.”
CSP doesn’t focus on specific acres, but instead enrolls the entire operation. “It’s a completely voluntary program. We present options for management practices, and they choose the ones that fit their operations best,” Vander Wilt says.
“We look at factors like soil health and nutrient and pest management programs,” says Zimprich. “If they’re raising livestock, we can look at pasture rotation and management, as well as the nutritional levels of their livestock to understand their response to the grazing system.”
What’s new for 2019?
The 2018 Farm Bill authorizes NRCS to accept new CSP enrollments from now until 2023, and it makes some important improvements to the program, including:
- NRCS now enrolls elifible, high-ranking applications based on dollars rather than acres. For fiscal 2019, NRCS can spend up to $700 million in the program, which covers part of the cost for producers impementing new conservation activities and maintaining their existing activities.
- Higher payment rates are now available for certain conservation activities, including cover crops and resource-conserving crop rotations.
Previously, South Dakota could enroll up to 10 million acres. Starting in 2019, for the next five years, a specific dollar amount will be allocated. “We don’t have our allocation yet,” says Vander Wilt. “The change will probably make the program a little bit more competitive, but we’ll have to see what our actual allocation is.”
Farmers and ranchers can sign up for CSP year-round. However, the deadline for 2019 applications is May 10.
“At the close of business on May 10, we’ll take all the applications we have on file and run them through our ranking process and make selections based on that,” says Vander Wilt.
Applications are ranked based on targeted resource concerns, which are determined at the state and federal levels. “When an individual applies, we identify the resource concerns they’re trying to address,” says Vander Wilt. “We see how their concerns line up with our targeted resource concerns and rank each application with a point system.”
“The points add up, and we start at the top, with the highest-ranked applications, and go down the list until we reach the funding threshold,” he says.
Producers can apply for CSP at their local NRCS office, access the South Dakota NRCS site at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/sd/programs/financial/csp/ or call the state office at 605-352-1200.