No-tillers and strip-tillers have until June 25 to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which now offers more money and access to qualified applicants under the final rules announced June 3 by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Potential applicants are encouraged to use the CSP self-screening checklist to determine whether CSP is suitable for their operation and apply before the closing date of June 25, 2010, when applications will be scored and ranked for funding.

Authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, the the CSP is a voluntary program that offers payments to producers who exercise good land stewardship and want to improve their conservation performance. The USDA made significant changes in payment rates, access and scoring of environmental benefits.

The program's new features include higher payment rate for additional conservation performance, higher payment limits for joint operations, an increase in annual payment limits and a new minimum payment.

More Money For More New Conservation

The 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 generate greater environmental benefits.

More Money For Joint Operations

The total contract limitation for joint operations has increased from $200,000 to $400,000, with annual payment limits increased from $40,000 to $80,000. the USDA says these changes will fairly compensate joint operations that produce environmental-benefit levels needed to earn the payments.

New Minimum Payment

To directly encourage participation by small-scale, historically underserved producers, the rule establishes a minimum payment of $1,000.

Pastured Cropland 

The USDA also added  a “pastured cropland” 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.


Some conservation enhancements work better when implemented as a system and under the new rule are offered as enhancement “bundles.” Participants who implement these comprehensive bundles will receive higher rankings and higher payments.

Resource-Conserving Crop Rotation 

The USDA revised the definition of “resource-conserving crop rotation” 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. 

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.

The 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.

Under the final rule published June 3 and effective immediately, the program retains the broad features outlined in the interim final rule. These include basing payments on conservation performance — the higher the performance, the higher the payment — and crediting producers for the conservation measures they have implemented and for measures they agree to add.

The USDA encourages potential applicants to use the CSP self-screening checklist to determine whether the program suits their operation and to apply before the closing date of June 25, 2010, when applications will be scored, ranked and funded.

The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, contract obligations, and payments, and additional information about CSP. It can be found on the national CSP Web site or on the Web sites of individual state NRCS offices.