USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim final rule for the Conservation Stewardship Program. CSP, the nation’s largest conservation program in terms of participating land, is designed to help farmers have more robust conservation activities. The rule – now available on the Federal Register – takes effect upon publication and includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill.
“We’re excited to roll out an updated Conservation Stewardship Program,” NRCS Chief Matt Lohr said. “We know the program is important to American farmers and ranchers, especially those who want to build on existing conservation efforts while strengthening their operations.”
Changes to CSP include:
- Increasing payment rates for adoption of cover crop rotations.
- Introducing a new supplemental payment for advanced grazing management.
- Creating one-time payment for developing a comprehensive conservation plan.
- Providing specific support for organic and transitioning to organic production activities.
As part of implementing the 2018 Farm Bill, NRCS has streamlined CSP by basing contracts on funds instead of acres, bringing it in line with the agency’s other large conservation program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Additionally, NRCS is aligning CSP with EQIP through common applications, contracting operations, conservation planning, conservation practices and related administrative procedures.
“These changes will result in greater efficiency in program delivery and reduced burden on producers,” Lohr said.
The interim final rule becomes effective upon publication in the Federal Register. NRCS invites comments on this interim rule through January 13, 2020. Electronic comments must be submitted through regulations.gov under Docket ID NRCS-2019-0020. All written comments received will be publicly available on http://www.regulations.gov.
NRCS will evaluate public comments to determine whether additional changes are needed. The agency plans on publishing a final rule following public comment review.
Applying for CSP
CSP is offered in all 50 states and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups. The program provides many benefits, including 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 an Indian tribe.
NRCS will make available $750 million for interested producers in fiscal 2020. NRCS state offices will announce sign-up periods for CSP in the coming weeks. Additionally, CSP participants may have an opportunity to renew their contracts in the first half of the fifth year of the five-year contract.