The U.S. Department of Agriculture will make available $100 million this year through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and although applications are accepted all year, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners should submit applications by March 13, 2015 to ensure they are considered for this year's funding (applications received after that date will be considered for future funding).
This year's investment may result in the enrollment of up to 7.7 million acres in the program by private landowners.
"CSP is a way of providing an incentive to farmers, and private forest managers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship," said Kevin Brown, Tennessee State Conservationist, of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. "By focusing on multiple resource concerns, landowners are able to achieve a sustainable landscape and maintain or increase the productivity of their operations."
Through CSP, participants take additional conservation steps to improve the resource conditions on their land, including soil, air and habitat quality, water quality and quantity, and energy conservation.
Brown said CSP producers are conservation leaders, showing how science-based conservation and technological advancements can improve the environment and farming operations at the same time. For example, Tennessee farmer, John Verell uses cover crops to improve the soil health in his fields. He uses precision agriculture when applying fertilizer and pesticide on his wheat, corn and soybean fields. He has previously improved wildlife and timber resources on his forestland. This stewardship of natural resources, incentivized through CSP, helps conserve energy and leads to cleaner water and healthier soil.
The 2014 Farm Bill brought changes to CSP including an expanded conservation activity list that will offer participants greater options to meet their conservation needs and protect the natural resources on their land. These conservation activities, called enhancements, include cover crops, intensive rotational grazing and wildlife friendly fencing.
"CSP is a great addition to our conservation toolbox for our Landscape Conservation Initiatives, which rally together landowners at the broader level to make conservation improvements that help us tackle our nation's resource issues," Brown said. "Historically, other conservation programs have driven these initiatives, but now with CSP, we'll be bringing more farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to these efforts."
Applications should be submitted to local NRCS office located in Woodbury at 740 Old McMinnville Road. As part of the CSP application process, applicants will work with NRCS field personnel to complete a resource inventory of their land, which will help determine the conservation performance for existing and new conservation activities. The applicant's conservation performance will be used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments.
A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.
For program information, contact Pamela Hoskins, District Conservationist at 615-563-4321 x3.