At least 40,000 farmers in six Iowa watersheds are among those possibly eligible to participate in the first national sign up of the historic new Conservation Security Program (CSP). This includes producers in two Iowa watersheds first included in the 2004 CSP pilot sign-up program. The 2005 sign up period will be from March 28 to May 27.
"CSP is a whole new direction in the history of USDA conservation programs," says Rick Van Klaveren, state conservationist for USDAâ€™s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa. "Conservation incentive programs and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers date back to the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. However, CSP represents the first time agricultural producers are being paid not just to fix a problem but in recognition of their ongoing stewardship and to maintain and further enhance that conservation commitment."
The 2005 CSP signup involves nearly one-half of all Iowaâ€™s 99 counties. It includes the following watersheds: North Raccoon, Turkey, Upper Wapsipinicon, Platte, East Nishnabotna and Blue Earth watersheds. Maps of each watershed can be found at www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov/csp.
This is the first nationwide CSP sign up
Nationally, CSP is being made available on private agricultural land in 220 watersheds, covering about 185 million acres, in every state and the Caribbean. The national $202 million budget will allow NRCS to offer an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 contracts to eligible farmers and ranchers.
To prepare agricultural producers for this historical new program, Van Klaveren says, Iowa NRCS has held workshops across eligible watershed areas. "We hope most of the potentially eligible producers interested in CSP have had a chance to attend a workshop and get a first hand explanation of the new goals and requirements associated with the program."
The workshops explain that CSP offers three levels or tiers of participation, depending on the amount of the farm enrolled and the current level of documented conservation. Payments will be made based on this tier level as well as the producerâ€™s agreement to do additional practices to further enhance the environment.
Tier I contracts (covering part of a farming operation) run for five years while Tier II and III contracts (covering all of a farming operation) can extend for 10 years.
Payments vary, based on conservation practices
"All successful applications begin with demonstrated protection of soil and water quality," says Van Klaveren. "This would typically mean managing a farm using a mix of practices such as conservation tillage, pest and nutrient management, crop rotation, cover crops and vegetation buffers." However he says that most CSP participants will go beyond the minimum and work to further enhance soil and water, improve wildlife habitat, or conserve or produce on-farm energy.
Payments will vary depending on land use (cropland, range or pastureland), the amount of land enrolled, the tier level and enhancements undertaken. One-time payments for new practices can also be included in a contract.
To apply, interested applicants should first do a self-assessment of their farming operation. These are available at workshops or can be obtained in hard copy or CD version from USDA Service Centers in watershed areas. Additionally, the self-assessment and other program information may be accessed at www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp.
Farmers to sign up during planting season
Thus, enrollment for the long-delayed program that pays farmers for better environmental practices will be held during the planting seasonâ€”not exactly the best timing for farmers to be involved with paperwork and signing up. Bruce Knight, chief of NRCS in Washington, D.C., says he was aware the dates of this yearâ€™s signup might put a burden on farmers who will be concerned about planting chores during the two-month period.
Knight says the enrollment period was delayed because the Office of Management and Budget had to approve funding levels and regulations for the program. Also, he says, more time was needed to refine the programâ€™s operation after the first signup.
Knight, who has farming interests in South Dakota, says he did everything he could to schedule the signup so it doesnâ€™t conflict with spring planting.
"I do owe the farm community an apology," says Knight. "We are going to catch some farmers at planting time. We will ask our county offices to be as flexible as they can so they can schedule as many appointments as possible during rainout days."
You can only have one contract at a time
Nationwide, the enrollment for CSP will be available to about 235,000 farmers and ranchers in the 220 watersheds.
Last yearâ€™s signup was for farmers in the East Nishnabotna River watershed and the Blue Earth River watersheds. There were 146 contracts averaging $7,735 each signed by farmers in the East Nishnabotna watershed and 143 contracts averaging $13,407 for the Blue Earth watershed.
None of the 289 current contract holders in these first two Iowa watersheds is eligible for enrollment this year, says Knight, but farmers can amend their contracts to include additional land. In other words, a producer can only have one contract at a time.