The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is planning a major “refresh” of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for 2016. The Izaak Walton League sees an opportunity to make this program work better for farmers, conservation, and the American people. 

The Conservation Stewardship Program helps farmers maintain and improve conservation practices on their farms. From 2009 to 2014, the program helped put conservation practices on almost 70 million acres of agricultural land, making it the largest conservation program in the country. With a few changes, however, this program could better benefit farmers and conservation alike. 

  • Put environmental benefits first. This seems like a no-brainer, but environmental benefits aren’t always at the forefront when producers are competing for CSP contracts. 
  • Promote the best conservation practices. Practices with the best environmental benefits are not the ones most commonly selected by CSP participants. 
  • Remember that soil health matters. CSP has a lot of potential to improve soil quality. NRCS should help the program realize that potential by using higher payments to encourage soil-enhancing practices. 
  • Don’t forget about small farms! CSP provides conservation payments by the acre, so small farms are at a disadvantage. Raising the minimum contract payment will help ensure farms of all sizes can participate in CSP.
  • Reward farmers who take conservation planning seriously. Comprehensive conservation planning is critical to long-term environmental benefits on the farm. CSP should reward landowners who go the extra mile by providing them with a supplemental payment added to their contract.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program is a great resource for farmers and ranchers looking to implement new practices on their operations as well as conservation leaders who are interested in maintaining the valuable practices they already have in place,” says John Sisser, Izaak Walton League Conservation Associate. “With this refresh, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has an opportunity to make CSP more accessible to small operations that struggle to make conservation practices economically viable and long-time conservation stewards who may be shut out due to the program’s emphasis on new conservation enhancements.” You can find more details on each of our recommendations for the Conservation Stewardship Program on the Izaak Walton League’s Web site

“Since its creation, the Conservation Stewardship Program has helped landowners implement valuable conservation practices on millions of acres of agricultural land,” Sisser says. “We hope the Natural Resources Conservation Service will use this refresh as an opportunity to build on CSP’s impressive track record and help the program realize its full potential.”