New Conservation Stewardship Program Finalized

NRCS Chief Jason Weller (left) and Jeff Durand
Mar 10, 2016
WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) published its final Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) rule in the Federal Register.

The CSP was updated following the guidelines set by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill and after reviewing nearly 500 comments on the Interim Rule, the agency is finally ready to put the new rule into effect.  

CSP is known as the USDA’s largest conservation program by acreage.  Since its inception in the 2008 Farm Bill it has provided financial assistance on more than 70 million acres of working lands.  The program has been utilized by U.S. rice farmers since it was first introduced and provides a number of enhancements that work particularly well on rice-growing operations.  

USA Rice submitted comments to NRCS regarding the Interim Rule asking for payment equity for using existing versus new conservation practices and more transparency in the ranking process for CSP applications. The final rule did this by removing the much-criticized and complex Conservation Measurement Tool and using a public set of ranking criteria similar to the process used by EQIP.  

Jeff Durand, Louisiana rice farmer and co-chair of the USA Rice Ducks Unlimited Stewardship Partnership, shared his thoughts, “Conservation definitely comes at a cost but CSP gives us as rice farmers the opportunity to cost-share some of the expenses for implementation and maintenance of enhancements and practices that keep our industry sustainable.”

Durand added, “Earlier this year, USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited put together the Rice Growers’ Conservation Handbook that outlines the CSP and EQIP practices that are most commonly used by rice farmers and provides some additional background information on the programs.”

Last month, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $150 million available to enroll 10 million new acres in CSP for Fiscal Year 2016.  Applications are due to local NRCS offices by March 31. Vilsack said of the CSP, “[It is one of the most] popular programs with producers because it results in real change on the ground by boosting soil and air quality, conserving clean water, and enhancing wildlife habitat.”

The Stewardship Partnership’s Sustaining the Future of Rice project through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will also offer the opportunity for rice farmers to sign-up for CSP later this year in all six rice-growing states.