In our previous post on the Beginning Farmer Forum, we introduced the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP can help beginning farmers achieve efficiencies in their business by providing technical assistance and incentive payments to establish installations or enhance practices that can reduce input costs or provide a marketing advantage.
Farmers interested in CSP can consider “bundles” of enhancement activities that complement each other to secure even greater efficiencies. Each bundle has a list of three or more mandatory practices, and many have another list of practices from which the farmer chooses additional practices, to earn the advantages of using a bundle. This allows farmers to adapt their participation in the program to their farm while ensuring their efforts help achieve conservation goals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDSA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has composed several bundles that address water quality. Interested farmers can explore buffer bundles, crop bundles, range and pasture bundles, regionally focused bundles, range and pasture bundles, and the Working Lands for Wildlife bundle if they’d like to address water quality on their farms. The practices included in these bundles offer valuable benefits, such as margin improvements on cropland with better soil health, erosion mitigation, increased pollinators, other beneficial insects and wildlife, establishment of valuable forage, and more efficient use of water and energy for irrigation. These benefits may have an appreciable impact on a farm’s bottom line.
CSP applications that include bundles of enhancement activities are often more competitive, and generally receive higher payments than similar applications with unbundled practices.
CSP was implemented by NRCS more recently than the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), so it may be more difficult for some NRCS Service Centers to work with you on CSP than on other programs. In 2016, NRCS maintained 12,282 active CSP contracts, compared to 36,395 EQIP contracts that were active or completed. Among the states, Minnesota had the most contracts in 2016 with 1,019. If you want to use CSP, ask your NRCS field staff about the program and learn as much as you can about it.