2018 Conservation Stewardship Program Enrollment Window Opens

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced that U.S. farmers and ranchers have until March 2, 2018, to submit an initial fiscal year (FY) 2018 application for the nation’s largest working lands program, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). 
Over 72 million acres across the country–roughly 8 percent of all agricultural land–are currently enrolled in whole-farm conservation contracts. The significant amount of working lands already enrolled in CSP, and the fact that in recent years CSP has had to turn away as many as 75 percent of qualified applicants, is evidence of the voluntary conservation program’s enormous popularity.
CSP’s ability to enroll qualified farmers is largely contingent on available federal funds. The 2014 Farm Bill reduced CSP’s annual enrollment from 12.8 million acres to 10 million acres, which resulted in thousands of qualified farmers being turned away from the program. 
Through the 2018 sign-up period, NRCS will enroll an additional 10 million acres of cropland, pastureland, rangeland, and forestland in CSP. Interested farmers and ranchers must submit their applications by March 2, 2018, in order to be considered for this year's sign-up.
Current participants whose initial contracts are set to expire at the end of the year will also have the opportunity to renew their contracts for an additional five-year period; USDA will announce a separate deadline for renewals in the coming weeks.
The initial step to apply for CSP is easy. Interested producers should act quickly to ensure consideration in this year’s sign-up. To apply, farmers and ranchers can go to their local NRCS office and submit the initial application materials–a simple form that asks for basic information regarding land ownership, type of production, and contact information. Once the initial application is accepted by NRCS, producers are then scored based on current and planned future conservation activities. If applicants meet acceptable conservation levels, they become eligible to compete in a ranking process that determines who will receive contracts. NRCS works down through the list of eligible applicants until acreage allocated to the particular state for that particular year runs out.
While applicants can apply for CSP anytime throughout the year, interested producers should submit applications before the March 2 deadline to ensure that they are considered for enrollment in FY 2018. 
The 2018 CSP is especially significant because it is the final enrollment opportunity under the authority provided by the 2014 Farm Bill, which is set to expire September 30 of this year. 
Farmers and ranchers interested in application support materials can find assistance through the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), of which CCOF is a member. NSAC will publish an updated Information Alert with step-by-step sign-up instructions and a complete list of all available conservation activities on their website as details from NRCS become available. 
Interested producers can also utilize NSAC’s Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which was updated last year to reflect the latest enrollment guidance and includes key definitions, explanations of the ranking and payment system, and helpful hints for accessing the program. 
About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more and get involved at sustainableagriculture.net.