The USDA celebrated more than St. Patrick's Day last week. In addition to the green of St. Paddy's, the "greenest" conservation program final rule was released for the Conservation Security Program (CSP) for 2005.
Sign-up for the Conservation Security Program (CSP) kicks off Monday, March 28 and runs through May 27 in 220 watersheds across the nation, 208 announced last fall and the initial 18 watersheds funded in 2004.
The signup allows farmers with good conservation practices to receive cash payments for their efforts. But like last year, the sign-up time is very limited, and comes during the busiest time for farmers.
In a conference call on Wednesday, Natural Resources and Conservation Service Chief Bruce Knight said the first thing producers can begin to do if they're in an eligible watershed is fill out the self-assessment, which is available via the Web or at a local NRCS office. Depending on how well records have been kept will determine how long it will take to fill out the self-assessment.
Knight explains that although the sign-up is during planting season, producers should "watch the sky." If producers see a couple of days of rain forecasted, they should anticipate to schedule as much one-on-one work at the NRCS office as possible, he recommends.
Program geared towards management practices
Unlike other conservation programs, CSP focuses on management of the land rather than traditional practices. Practices such as management of precision ag, intensive grazing systems, or even using biodiesel on your farm all increase the enhancement of conservation methods.
Knight clarifies that just because a producer is using precision ag doesn't mean there's a change to the environment. "What we're hoping to do is make a move towards a payment of environmental outcomes instead of technology acceptance," Knight says. Less runoff could be a result of applying at or below agronomic rates, a guidance system on your tractor that has only a three-inch overlap compared to 18 inches or it may come from transitioning to organic agriculture. "It has to be the outcome that makes the difference."
The renewable energy component is another exciting inclusion of CSP, Knight says. For instance, eligible producers will receive compensation for converting to renewable energy fuels such as soy biodiesel and ethanol, for recycling 100% of on-farm lubricants, and for implementing energy production, including wind, solar, geothermal and methane production.
Changes made in final rule
The final rule was accelerated, although due to the vast number of comments on the rule, the agency was unable to announce the final rule until March. But during the interim rule, NRCS was able to make some streamline changes and correct issues identified in the public comments.
Some of those changes include allowing producers who qualified for the Tier 1 benefits for up to give years can graduate to the 10-year contract with additional conservation enhancements. Also, what works well with corn, soybeans, and wheat was found to not work as well for fruits and vegetables and other commodities. For instance, specifics had to be written for maple sugar producers.
The program also was adjusted so that beginning farmers, not just well-established farmers, could equally participate in the program.
For more information
The Center for Rural Affairs is again offering a hot line to answer questions for farmers registering for the program. "We want to ensure that the farmers and ranchers this program was intended to reward are able to fully access the program," says Traci Bruckner, a policy analyst at the Center.
The Center has been active in the formation and application of CSP since the beginning of the program. Potential participants can find a self-assessment workbook and other application materials at