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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! 

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