The cutoff date for farmers and ranchers to apply to participate in the 2012 sign-up for the Conservation Stewardship Program has been extended by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) until Jan. 27. 

By this date, farmers and ranchers interested in participating in the program need to submit a short two-page application form to their local NRCS office.

“We applaud USDA for extending the signup by two weeks,” said Greg Fogel, an NSAC policy associate. “The bulk of the original sign-up period was scheduled to run during the year-end holiday season, making the extra time warranted in our view.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which helped develop the program and has followed its progress closely, has issued a five-page Information Alert on the 2012 sign-up. The document is available free online at www.sustainableagriculture.net

In addition to basic sign-up information and pointers, the Alert also describes changes made to the program for this sign-up, including new conservation practices and enhancements being offered.

The CSP is a working lands conservation program available on a nationwide basis. CSP offers technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers for adopting and maintaining high standards of resource conservation and environmental stewardship.

Assistance is geared to both the active management of existing conservation systems and for implementing new conservation activities on land in agricultural production.

In the program’s first three enrollment years (2009, 2010, and 2011), NRCS has enrolled 30,197 farmers and ranchers operating nearly 38 million acres of farm and ranch land that is now under five-year, renewable CSP conservation contracts. 

For those first three enrollment classes, annual CSP payments are currently over $510 million a year on a nationwide basis.

The enrollment process is competitive, based on environmental benefits, and will be even more competitive than usual in 2012 as the total acres to be enrolled will be as much as a third less than the 12.8 million acre per year level provided by the 2008 farm bill. 

The 2012 iteration of CSP will have an enrollment cap between 9 million and 10 million acres due to a budget cut to the program made by Congress in the FY 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Act.

Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forest lands, and agricultural land under tribal jurisdiction.

 Applicants must demonstrate they have effective control over these lands to be eligible, either through ownership or reasonably secure leases. 

Producers wanting more detailed information may want to review NSAC's Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program available for free download at http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/.

The Guide provides clear information on conservation activities eligible for CSP payments to improve conservation performance and environmental benefits. It also includes step-by-step enrollment guidance, key definitions, and helpful hints.