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Getting involved with CSP requires specific steps

It's a federal program, but getting involved in the Conservation Security Program (CSP) requires action on the local level, according to a National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) official.

One criticism of the current CSP is the difficulty of enrollment and participation if you're in a CSP watershed. To that end, officials are working to make the process easier, according to NRCS national CSP coordinator Dwayne Howard.

"Obviously, as big as the program is, we hear a lot of complaints from producers and participants who don't get approved for funding. We have heard producers say it's a complicated process, and one thing NRCS has been doing is trying to streamline the program every year since 2004," Howard tells Agriculture Online. "We've developed tools, like those for monitoring soil and water quality, that will make it easier to evaluate applications and make it easier for the farmer. We're simplifying what we're asking for from the farmer."

The process for the farmer interested in becoming involved in CSP really starts at the local level, Howard says. Eligible watersheds are selected for the program by NRCS-trained state conservationists who typically seek input from state groups like farm and conservation organizations and state agencies. But, once a watershed is selected, immediate oversight shifts to a county board of supervisors.

"Each conservation district has a board of supervisors. Farmers within that county can attend district board meetings and make their feelings known, and the supervisors can write letters and attend state technical meetings," Howard says of farmers' interaction with their county supervisors. "All of our folks receive training to ensure the program is administered consistently across the nation based on the rules. Essentially, it's that state's conservationist working with the state technical committee to look at the state's resources and the number of farmers in the watersheds."

In the current CSP, eligible farmers can attain one of three tiers of conservation funding. Funding in each tier depends on the number of conservation practices, and resulting stewardship, implemented on the farm. In the first tier, contracts are five years in duration with a maximum payment of $20,000. "They can include only part of their ag operation," Howard says of participants at this level.

Farmers achieving tier-two status can sign contracts for five to 10 years, but it must be for the entire operation. Maximum tier-two payments are $35,000. In tier three, all acres are included and the maximum payment possible is $45,000.

But, before even approaching the county board of supervisors, the farmer's eligibility and participation level is determined through completion of an NRCS workbook that shows and explains the conservation measures he or she takes on the operation. In preparation for completing this workbook, Howard says general record-keeping is of utmost importance.

"They basically have to tell us what is their existing level of conservation on the operation. It has worksheets about grazing land, pesticide use, nutrient management and whether they have records for these things," Howard says. "It's a series of questions concerning tillage on the operation, practices that are existing. Basically, it is a series of documents where they tell us what is out there. Generally, NRCS will not be going out to that operation prior to determining whether the application is worthy of funding."

How will this process change in the future? Much is yet to be determined with program funding in question in this year's farm bill, but simplifying CSP is a high priority. One change that is slated, Howard says, is the number of participation tiers.

"We want it implemented in other watersheds with continuous sign-up. With the House [farm bill] proposal, there are two tiers," Howard says. "One tier is progressive and the other is a 'master' tier. It basically is paring down the three tiers to two. I think it's just streamlining it and making the program simpler."

It's a federal program, but getting involved in the Conservation Security Program (CSP) requires action on the local level, according to a National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) official.

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