Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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CRP falling, but popularity of CSP grows in ag country

St. Paul — It’s probably too early to proclaim the dawning of a new era when it comes to conservation on private lands in Minnesota, but it’s without doubt that a handful of smaller-scale federal programs are to some extent offsetting the loss of acres in the nation’s preeminent conservation option, the Conservation Reserve Program.

One of those options available to landowners who want to put some cash in their pockets while aiding water and wildlife – and presumably, more – is the Conservation Stewardship Program, and last month the U.S. Department of

Agriculture announced new-enrollment applications could take place through Jan. 17.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service calls CSP “an important Farm Bill conservation program that helps established conservation stewards with taking their level of natural resource management to the next level …,” and in Minnesota, there currently are about 2 million acres in the program, with payments averaging about $25 per acre. That amounts to between $50 million and $60 million that’s paid to landowners each year in the state.

And, says Don Baloun, NRCS state conservationist in Minnesota, CSP demand is high in the state.

“The program is very well received by our farmers,” Baloun said.

While CSP acres outpace Conservation Reserve Program acres (just over 1 million currently), the programs are quite different in approach, but similar in goals. CRP is a set-aside program, while CSP acres are “active,” agriculturally (or forestry), but producers are rewarded for practices deemed environmentally healthy.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s “Farmer’s Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program,” “CSP is for working farms, built on the belief that we must enhance natural resources and environmental protection at the same time we produce profitable food, fiber, and energy.”

The gist of the program is that it rewards landowners for doing right by the environment, according to Baloun.

“There was a day when we rewarded the sinner,” he said, refering to past efforts to provide funding for those landowners whose practices were detriments to healthy land stewardship.

The NSAC compiled a list of top CSP practices from a couple years ago. Near the top regarding cropland were things like the use of cover crops, creation of pollinator habitat, wildlife-sensitive haying, and precision nutrient application.

Grazing management and solar-powered fencing were a couple pasture-related top practices. And in the realm of forestry, prescribed burning and riparian forest buffers were popular among landowners.

The Conservation Stewardship Program formerly was the Conservation Security Program; a few years ago the name changed, and the program was simplified, Baloun said. Gone were the complex tiers that likely dissuaded some landowners from considering the program.

The program is popular across much of the state – primarily the “L” around the metro and northeast, according to Baloun. The state as a whole is a hotbed for the program. Minnesota has been first in the number of CSP contracts and acres for a while now, he said.

Morrison County is tops in the state with 205 contracts. Other counties that rank high are Yellow Medicine, Murray, Stearns, and Otter Tail.

Contracts are for five years, and it’s not unusual for a contract holder to seek another upon expiration, Baloun said. More program money would no doubt result in even greater enrollment in the program.

“We always have a significant backlog (of those who want into the program) in Minnesota,” he said.

The Conservation Stewardship Program has largely dodged the problems caused by the lack of a new farm bill (the current bill is running on a second extension; the 2008 bill expired last year).

That’s because under the current bill, CSP gets a mandatory annual appropriation of funding, according to Baloun, thus the reason signup currently is available.

Nationwide, CSP enrollment now is around 60 million acres.

Landowners interested in the program should contact their local NRCS office; there are 85 such offices across the state, often co-located with Farm Service Agency officials who oversee other federal conservation programs.

According to the NRCS press release, eligible landowners can enroll in CSP through Jan. 17 to be eligible during the 2014 federal fiscal year. While local NRCS offices accept CSP applications year-round, the NRCS evaluates applications during announced ranking periods.

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