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CSP signup to be announced soon

Agriculture.com Staff 08/03/2009 @ 2:30pm

Farmers will soon have a chance to sign up for yet another farm program, the Conservation Stewardship Program.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service hasn't made a formal announcement yet, but Agriculture Online learned Sunday from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin and Iowa's State Conservationist, Richard Sims, that signup will start this month.

Unlike the new ACRE program (Average Crop Revenue Election), there is no doubt that farmers who are accepted into the CSP program will get paid, at an average of about $18 an acre. And, unlike the CSP's predecessor, the Conservation Security Program, the signup does not come at the busiest seasons of the year for producers.

"This is a good time for signup," Harkin said during an interview at his home in Cumming, Iowa, on Sunday. "And with prices a little bit lower right now, I think farmers are thinking about how they can get more income."

Your exact payment won't be known at signup, though, since it will depend on the number of enhancements you’ve made to your farm and the ones you plan to make in the future, said Larry Beeler, Iowa's Assistant State Conservationist for programs. And the more enhancements you have, the better your chance of getting accepted into the program.

Unlike the old CSP, the new one should seem more fair. It no longer is limited to certain watersheds. Enrollment will be nationwide, with an annual acreage cap of 12,768,000 acres. "Every watershed is engaged now," said Sims, who headed the state NRCS office in Idaho before moving to Iowa in June.

With roughly six weeks to sign up for the 2009 federal fiscal year that ends September 30, the NRCS is trying to streamline the process online. The USDA is encouraging farmers to visit a self-screening checklist like this one to see if you're eligible. The new CSP will have continuous signup, so you won’t have to wait for another announcement to sign up in 2010, however.

Unlike some previous conservation programs, the concept behind this one is to support good stewardship on land that’s raising crops and livestock.

"That was our intent from the very beginning, to make sure people who were doing conservation get rewarded for it,” Harkin said.

The CSP recognizes a wide variety of practices on agricultural land and privately-owned non-industrial forests. They include nutrient management, residue management, crop rotations, cover crops, prescribed grazing, forest stand improvement, and more.

"Right now there are approximately 80 enhancements that a producer can select from," Beeler said. NRCS has posted the full list here.

It's important to also include practices that you plan to add when you sign up, Beeler said. "That increases the points you receive in the conservation measurement tool." A higher number of practices increases potential CSP payments as well as your chances of being accepted into the program. Farmers sign five-year contracts to continue and increase conservation practices.

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