Published Feb 12, 2015

CSP Application Deadline February 27, 2015

By Nick Ohde

The deadline—February 27, 2015—is rapidly approaching to apply for enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP is a competitive USDA-NRCS program that supports farmers in maintaining, improving, and adding additional conservation to their farm operations. Practical Farmers has supported this program since its inception, and numerous members have taken advantage of the program to help add cover crops and third crops to their rotations.

PFI member Wendy Johnson of Charles City says the program is great for farmers already using conservation practices on their farm: “You’re actually looking for funding for things that you already do, unlike other programs where you’re trying new things.” She says the sign-up process is relatively easy.

To apply for the program, farmers have to answer some questions and fill out some information about current and proposed conservation practices on their farm. The competitive ranking process, determining who will receive funding, considers both existing conservation practices and proposed changes. A list of supported practices can be found on the NRCS website .

Sarah Ham, soil conservationist with the NRCS in Washington County, IA has worked with more than 75 farmers who have successfully applied for CSP dollars. Many of the practices are also recommended on Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy for their improvements to water quality. The process is pretty straightforward, but may require a couple trips to the local NRCS office, so farmers that are interested should start the process as soon as possible.

You can jumpstart the process now by going to the NRCS website and filling out the CSP self-screening checklist to see if you’re eligible. Ham says that most farmers are eligible; they just need to make sure they are listed as operator on their Farm Service Agency (FSA) county records.

The next step is to stop in at your county NRCS office and get the required paperwork. Ham says that although the paperwork can initially seem burdensome, most people agree that it isn’t too bad once they actually start filling it out. “It looks a little overwhelming at first, but the documents are actually just asking a lot of questions that farmers already know the answers to.”

You can also find all the documents you’ll need to fill out at Iowa’s NRCS website for CSP, and additional information at the national NRCS website.

Ham says, to save time, farmers should start working on the forms at home. “The more they get done at home before they come in, the less time they’ll need to spend in the office.”

Additionally, farmers that have completed applications in the past and been unsuccessful are automatically re-entered for consideration this year. They don’t need to do anything, but could modify their application to bolster their chances of successfully receiving funding.

Ham says that most everyone who has participated in the program agrees that it’s a good one. When asked if most farmers were happy with the program, she said: “Absolutely. I’ve never had anyone that’s signed the contract regret that decision.”

Farmers that enrolled in the program in 2011 are now eligible to renew their contracts. They will compete separately for funding from new enrollees, and the deadline for renewal applications is March 31, 2015.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition just released a newly updated Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program. You can also find out more by contacting your local NRCS office.