My experiment with CSP
A government program that was started four years ago is called CSP, short for Conservation Stewardship Program. It is implemented and administered by the local USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). My understanding is that it is designed to reward farmers who are currently implementing good conservation practices and to ensure that they continue those practices as well as try out things as the program progresses. The program was to last for five years with no way to get out once a farmer signs up and implements certain practices.
Initially it seemed ideal for a farmer like me that owns or controls all of the land that I farm. When I indicated my interest in signing up, I was given a list of conservation practices that are approved by NRCS and told that I would need to implement two new ones that I was not currently doing. On the list I found that using nitrogen stabilizer was one practice that was approved by the NRCS that I was not already doing. I was about to give up on finding another practice when my agronomist pointed out that I had overlooked taking residual nitrate tests on corn as it matures; that is an approved way to discover over- or underapplication of nitrogen fertilizer.
I submitted the application with the two practices mentioned above. It was approved for me to implement for the next five years. Without having replicated plots it is difficult to know if the practices got the desired results. Also, when it was time to turn in the results, I was informed that there is no approved form for reporting the results. I was told “we are flexible.” Somehow, I have a hard time reconciling the word “flexible” with “government program."
To meet the requirements of the program, I recorded my crop inputs on a legal-size Excel spreadsheet. Frankly, I could not tell if the nitrogen management practices were successful or not. But the results were tabulated, the forms turned in, and I got my check. The cost of the nitrogen stabilizer and the cost of the two residual nitrogen tests was about a third of the subsidy I got from NRCS. I guess that makes it worthwhile. However, I did not really get the answers I wanted from the project.
It is now time to do the tests and turn in the results for the 2013 project to NRCS. Stalk samples are to be taken one to three weeks after black layer. When I checked a few days ago, black layer was still a week in the future. Corn is maturing rapidly with the hot weather in the past two weeks. It will be interesting to see if it is possible to discover if there was any benefit from my experiment!