USDA's National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently announced the opening of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for new enrollments in 2015. Farmers, ranchers and foresters interested in participating in the program can submit applications to NRCS through Feb. 27, 2015, to be considered in the 2015 round of ranking applications and awarding contracts.

“The CSP is a continuous sign-up program that has periodic cut-off dates for ranking applications. February 27, 2015 is the deadline for the coming year,” said Traci Bruckner, Senior Policy Associate for Agriculture and Conservation at the Center for Rural Affairs. “Applications can be filed at your local NRCS office. We know this is a very short timeline but producers just have to file a simple application by the February 27 deadline.”

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. Contracts are awarded to those offering the highest level of environmental benefits, with NRCS working down through the list of eligible applicants until acreage allocated to the particular state runs out.

In addition, producers who received a CSP contract in 2011 have the opportunity to renew their contract for another five-year period. Renewal applications must be received by March 31, 2015 to ensure a seamless transition into their next contract without a lapse in payments. Renewal contracts do not compete with new applicants.

According to Bruckner, the Conservation Stewardship Program is a voluntary stewardship incentives program, administered by NRCS, designed to reward farmers, ranchers, and foresters for maintaining existing conservation, as well as for the adoption of additional conservation measures that provide multiple environmental benefits that run beyond the farm or ranch. This program pays producers for clean water, better soil management, improved habitat, energy efficiency, and other natural resource benefits. Since the program began in 2009, nearly 70 million acres of farm and ranch land have been enrolled in the program.

Bruckner encouraged potential applicants to call the Center's Farm Bill Helpline to learn more about the application process and help uncover and overcome barriers encountered during that process by calling (402) 687-2100 or emailing her at tracib@cfra.org.

“The Center for Rural Affairs has a long history of assisting family farmers and ranchers access farm bill programs," continued Bruckner. "The Center’s Farm Bill helpline provides a direct connection to Center staff with knowledge about program rules to help you understand if a particular program will fit your needs."

Resources are available to help producers consider the CSP and make their applications. In addition to contacting the Center’s Farm Bill Helpline for additional assistance in navigating the application process, application materials and information are available through the Center for Rural Affairs website, USDA’s website, your local NRCS office, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

CSP resources for farmers and ranchers:

USDA’s CSP website - http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/csp/

Center for Rural Affairs Helpline - (402) 687-2100 or tracib@cfra.org

USDA Service Center locator - http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app (to locate local NRCS offices)