NRCS Hits ‘Go’ On Revamped Conservation Stewardship Program

Jeff-Durand, headshot
Nov 14, 2016
WASHINGTON, DC – The USDA’s largest conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has been “under construction” since the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law nearly three years ago until the new version was released earlier today.

The CSP provides landowners the opportunity to build on existing conservation efforts while strengthening their operation overall.  CSP helps landowners meet their environmental goals by addressing specific priority concerns within the span of the five-year contract.  Successful contracts are eligible to be renewed for an additional five years following their completion to maximize the environmental benefits to the land.  The CSP is made up of a combination of conservation practices and enhancements that go above and beyond the minimum standards and help to elevate the level of effectiveness.

The 2014 Farm Bill instructed USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to revamp the CSP, particularly removing the complexity that made applying, rewarding, and maintaining contracts difficult for staff and landowners.  After collecting industry comments on the CSP draft rule, NRCS returned to the drawing board to develop and pilot test the new program until receiving the green light to begin training field staff this summer.  According to NRCS Chief Jason Weller, “[The new CSP] provides even more opportunities for conservation and greater flexibility at the local level to prioritize resource concerns and conservation approaches.  State and locally customized CSP tools will improve the customer experience during application evaluations.”

In conjunction with the national roll-out of the revamped CSP, the USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited’s Rice Stewardship Partnership is beginning the second phase of the National Rice Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project.  Earlier this year, the Partnership organized the signing of more than 200 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts for rice growers across the six rice-growing states.  The second portion of the project entails enrolling 120,000 acres of ricelands under the CSP in the same six states.

Partnership co-chair and Louisiana rice farmer Jeff Durand said, “CSP contracts have historically been sought after by rice growers as astute stewards of their land but we’ve had a difficult time understanding the application process and what we as farmers get out of the enhancements we’ve selected to implement.”

Durand added, “It’s exciting for rice farmers to not only have a clearer understanding of how applications are prioritized to be funded but also to have funds set-aside specifically for ricelands to help provide growers an opportunity to implement some of the more costly enhancements.”

Applications will be accepted beginning today through December 30, 2016 at your local NRCS offices.  More information can be found here.