Major Questions Remain as USDA Announces 2017 Conservation Stewardship Program Sign-UpFri, 04 Nov 2016 14:57:10 CDT
Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the beginning of the 2017 sign-up period for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the nation’s largest working lands conservation program. This year’s sign-up announcement is particularly noteworthy, as it is the first year that major programmatic changes will be in place after two years of intensive planning by USDA.
The program reinvention is significant given the considerable reach of CSP – over 70 million acres are already enrolled, and more than 20 million acres will be enrolled or renewed in 2017. Total program enrollment is expected to reach over 80 million acres by next year.
Farmers and ranchers interested in enrolling have until February 3, 2017 to complete the initial CSP application, which is a simple form that asks for basic information regarding land ownership, type of production, and contact information. NRCS offices will begin processing applications on November 14, and initial information on the restructured program is available on the new CSP portal, located at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/csp. Although applicants can sign up for CSP anytime throughout the year, those who miss the February 3 deadline will not be considered for the program until 2018.
While the full details on the reinvented CSP have not yet been released, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) strongly urges farmers and ranchers to take this first step and submit an initial application so that they can be considered for the program in 2017. However, we also urge USDA to release the remaining details regarding conservation activities, payment rates, and the eligibility process as soon as possible – well before the February deadline.
“Our number one priority is to ensure that farmers take advantage of this important conservation opportunity for 2017, but we are disappointed that USDA has yet to publically release critical details of the reinvented CSP,” said Alyssa Charney, Policy Specialist at NSAC. “Without the full release of these details, farmers and ranchers will be unable to fully assess the implications of the revised CSP payment rates, ranking process, and new eligibility tool on their operations and potential applications. CSP participants are conservation leaders who introduce and expand conservation on their land in agricultural production; they deserve full transparency regarding how potential CSP participants will be rewarded for their conservation efforts. For this reason, we have strongly urged USDA to release the full details of the new program long before the February 3 deadline.”
Based on NSAC’s analysis of the materials and information made available to date, the new version of the program appears to back away from the previous practice of awarding ranking points and payments based on the expected conservation benefits of activities in a farmer’s CSP plan. If the as of yet unreleased materials and tools confirm this tentative conclusion, it will represent a major missed opportunity by USDA to continue and enhance the role of CSP as a performance and results-based program.
USDA plans to incorporate state and local concerns by utilizing input from farmers, ranchers, and partners in State Technical Committees (STCs) and local workgroups, and NSAC encourages participation in STCs by farmers and organizations committed to sustainable agriculture in order to ensure the new structure reflects the key resource challenges and most significant opportunities to improve sustainability in each watershed or eco-region.
In order to educate and support farmers and ranchers as they work through the revised CSP application process, NSAC will issue an updated information alert in the coming weeks, including: step-by-step sign-up and enrollment details; an accessible list of the key conservation activities; and a thorough breakdown of the new ranking and eligibility processes.
NSAC will also post guidance on CSP renewals as additional information is made available by USDA. CSP contracts last for 5 years, with the opportunity to renew, and the deadline for farmers with 2013 contracts that expire after 2017 to apply to renew their contract is anticipated to be sometime in March or April 2017.
Source - National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
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