By Max Fisher, Vice President of Economics and Government Relations
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) released a final rule on Oct. 9 updating the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) as required by the 2018 farm law.
First created in 2002, CSP is a conservation program for working agricultural lands, such as cropland and grazing land.
The farm law authorizes four main conservation programs: CSP, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). CSP and EQIP are working-land programs that incentivize enhanced conversation on working farms, while CRP and ACEP are land-idling programs that pay landowners to restrict or terminate certain land uses, such as agricultural production.
Through CSP enrollment, NRCS incentivizes producers to implement conservation practices to address the producers’ and/or societal goals, such as reducing soil erosion, mitigating the impact of excess rainfall, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering carbon, improving cover, food and water availability for livestock and wildlife, and promoting energy efficiencies for on-farm operations.
Compared to CSP as authorized under the 2014 farm law, Congress significantly reduced CSP’s size in the 2018 law from $1.8 billion per year to $8 million per year. The 2018 farm law reallocated most of CSP’s annual funding to CRP and ACEP, with the remainder going to EQIP. With less available funding, fewer CSP contracts will be funded.
NRCS will continue to accept applicants for CSP at any time and contracts will last five years and include the potential for participants to compete for a renewal contract for an additional five years.
CSP maintains the requirement that producers enroll their entire operation. The only size-related limitation on CSP contracts is the $40,000 annual payment limit.
Below are major changes made to CSP under the 2018 farm law and NRCS’s final rule:
- Removes the 10-million-acre annual enrollment cap and the $18 per acre average payment limit. In 2018, there were approximately 110 million acres enrolled in CSP.
- Allows for a one-time payment option for development of a comprehensive conservation plan.
- Removes the automatic renewal of CSP contracts if participants met basic compliance and threshold requirements. The 2018 farm law modified renewal criteria and required that renewals be based upon a competitive process using the same ranking factors as used for new CSP signups.
- Outlines implementation of the new CSP-Grassland Conservation Initiative (GCI). The 2018 farm law mandated the establishment of GCI where the entire farm was planted to grass or pasture, or was idle or fallow, from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2017 (mostly land under CRP contracts that expired in 2018). Beginning in 2019 and continuing through 2023, landowners may enroll their eligible land in GCI for a five-year term, with the caveat that they maintain the land in grass with very limited authorization for crop production. The annual GCI payment is limited to $18 per acre, and enrolled acreage cannot exceed the number of base acres on a farm. Through March 2020, a total of 1.2 million acres had been enrolled, mostly in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. GCI is expected to require 5.5 percent of total authorized CSP funding.