Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that landowners nationwide are invited to apply for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Authorized in the 2008 farm bill, CSP offers payments to producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and who agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland and non-industrial forestland. The deadline to be considered for the next ranking and funding period is June 11, 2010.

“Voluntary conservation practices by private landowners are an essential part of our effort to improve soil and water quality,” said Vilsack. “Broad and diverse participation in the CSP program will provide landowners with many benefits such as enhancing wildlife habitat and helping to mitigate the impact of climate change.”

Congress limited enrollment for CSP nationally at 12.7 million acres per year. Applicants will compete within state-identified ranking pools. CSP is offered in all 50 states, District of Columbia, and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups with announced cut-off application dates for ranking periods.

Under the interim final rule published July 29, 2009, eligible producers may submit an application to enroll eligible land in CSP on a continuous basis. Producers are encouraged to apply for CSP now to ensure their applications will be considered during the next funding and ranking period. However, they can make their final decision to participate in the program once the CSP final rule is issued. The final rule will establish the policies and procedures for the program.

CSP, authorized in the 2008 farm bill, offers payments to producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and who agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland and non-industrial forestland.

Potential applicants are encouraged to use the CSP self-screening checklist to determine if the new program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSPeligibility requirements, contract obligations and potential payments. It is available from local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offices or on the NRCS Web site at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/new_csp/csp.html.