Farmers have until May 10 to apply for funding under the Conservation Stewardship Program, the largest working lands conservation program in the country, the Natural Resources Conservation Service announced Friday.

NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr said CSP continues to be a “very effective tool” for private landowners working to achieve their conservation goals.

For the most part, this signup will be similar to past years, but new contracts will be eligible for increased payment rates for practices such as cover crops (shown above) and crop rotations that can prevent runoff of nutrients from cropland. Those higher rates were among the changes that the 2018 farm bill made in the program, not all of which are being implemented in this signup.

The bill also replaced the previous 10-million-acre annual cap on the program with a yearly spending limit, which is $700 million for fiscal 2019.

Alyssa Charney, senior policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, applauded NRCS for “quickly moving forward with the farm bill updates” to increase those payments.

“CSP is the only conservation program that provides support for comprehensively addressing natural resources across an entire operation,” Charney said.

Some 70 million acres are enrolled in CSP, which helps producers improve soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

In addition to the increase in payment rate for certain practices, CSP also will provide specific support for organic and for transitioning to organic production activities, and a special grassland conservation initiative for certain producers who have maintained cropland base acres.

NRCS has authority under the bill to implement conservation programs under the rules of the 2014 farm bill for this enrollment period. It allows NRCS to keep FY19 enrollments on schedule while they work through rule changes.

CSP traveled a rocky road during development of the farm bill. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, targeted it for elimination, but the final agreement with the Senate kept the program alive, while reducing its overall funding. 

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