Late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) broke the news that the major overhaul (or “makeover”) of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) scheduled for early 2016 will be delayed one year, and instead rolled out for the 2017 sign-up period.
CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program designed to help farmers and ranchers protect and improve natural resources on productive, profitable land. It provides farmers and ranchers assistance to manage and adopt advanced conservation systems on their lands in agricultural production through a commitment to continual improvement and exceeding stewardship thresholds for priority resource concerns.
Nearly 70 million acres are currently enrolled in the program, and an additional 20 million acres will be enrolled or renewed each year until the next farm bill, so any updates or revisions to the program will have a significant impact on working lands conservation across the country.
The delay means that the 2016 sign-up period, which is expected to begin early next year, will occur under similar rules and guidelines as it did in 2015. The Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT) will still be used to score and rank applications, and payments will be determined as they had been in the years past.
The major changes that NRCS had been planning for 2016 are now scheduled to be rolled out in October 2016, and the new program will be offered to participants for the 2017 sign-up period.
We join our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauding NRCS for extending the overhaul timeline, as it not only provides time for field and state NRCS employees to receive ample training on the upcoming changes, but it also allows stakeholders to provide input before these changes go into effect. Additionally, farmer outreach will be absolutely critical for new participants and renewals, and the revised timeline enables NRCS and organizations like NSAC to ensure that farmers are informed and excited about the upcoming changes.
Watch NSAC as they continue to engage with NRCS on the upcoming 2016 sign-up.