The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released an updated version of its Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program.


The Guide is intended to help family farmers, ranchers, and foresters understand the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) enrollment process.  In addition, it provides clear information on conservation activities eligible for CSP payments to improve conservation performance and environmental benefits.

The CSP is a whole farm and comprehensive working lands conservation program administered by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).  Its primary focus is management practices.  The philosophy of the program is captured by the subtitle of the Farmers’ Guide – Rewarding farmers for how the grow what they grow.

The revised Guide includes step-by-step enrollment guidance, key definitions, and helpful hints.  It also includes a new five-page section with data analysis of the program’s first two sign-up periods in 2009 and 2010.  This data section includes analysis of program participation by geographic region, land use type, commodity type, and the top conservation practices and enhancements chosen by farmers and ranchers who have enrolled in the program. 

CSP targets priority resource issues in specific states and watersheds, paying farmers for the adoption of new conservation enhancements and the active management of ongoing conservation activities to help solve the resource concerns.

CSP payments are directly calibrated to environmental benefits derived from particular practices.  All CSP participants must already exceed stewardship standards for at least one priority resource concern and agree to exceed standards for additional concerns through the adoption of advanced conservation management measures.

The leading resource concerns currently addressed by the program are water quality, wildlife habitat, soil quality, and erosion.  In some areas of the country water conservation and air quality are also priority considerations.

In just three years of operation, the program has enrolled nearly 30,000 farmers and ranchers operating over 37.5 million acres of farm and ranch land that is now under five-year, renewable CSP conservation contracts.  CSP enrollment acreage since passage of the 2008 Farm Bill is roughly equal in size to the entire state of Georgia or Iowa or Michigan. 

To date, CSP “green” payments are averaging $170 million per year per sign-up, or approximately $850 million for each annual enrollment class over the course of the five-year CSP contract.  Individual farmer contracts are capped at $40,000 per year, with the average-sized contract currently running between $15,000 and $20,000 per year.

CSP is popular with producers, with twice as many applicants as there is funding competing for enrollment.  Enrollment is based on environmental benefit scores as determined by the Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT).  The CMT is explained in detail in the Guide.

CSP is a continuous sign-up program, meaning producers can apply to enroll at any time of the year.  However, there is generally one cut-off date at which point NRCS will rank all proposals on hand, based on environmental benefits, and determine which will be awarded contracts for that year.  Though NRCS has not announced anything yet, in all likelihood the 2012 cut-off date for ranking and awards will be early in the 2012 calendar year.

The Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program is available for download on our website on our publications page at 

Printed copies of the Guide can also be purchased.  To inquire about ordering printed copies, email NSAC