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Conservation Stewardship Program interim final rule posted in Federal Register

The interim final rule for the Conservation Stewardship Program was posted July 29, 2009, in the Federal Register and is open for public comment. The deadline to submit comments is September 28, 2009. The CSP rule will be finalized in FY 2010. For more information go to www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/farmbill/2008/pdfs/E9-17812.pdf.

The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 amended the Food Security Act of 1985 to establish the CSP. The purpose of the CSP is to encourage producers to address resource concerns in a comprehensive manner by undertaking additional conservation activities, and improving, maintaining and managing existing conservation activities. This interim final rule, with request for comment, sets forth the policies, procedures, and requirements necessary to implement the CSP as authorized by the 2008 Act amendments. The Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture has delegated authority to the Natural Resources Conservation Service to administer CSP.

For the initial signup period, NRCS recommends that the CSP program design place equal weight on the considered program ranking factors until program performance is established. Given that program performance has not been established, NRCS seeks public comment on which option best enables NRCS to meet program objectives.

Through CSP, NRCS will provide financial and technical assistance to eligible producers to conserve and enhance soil, water, air, and related natural resources on their land. Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forestlands, agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe, and other private agricultural land (including cropped woodland, marshes, and agricultural land used for the production of livestock) on which resource concerns related to agricultural production could be addressed.

The State Conservationist, in consultation with the State Technical Committee and local work groups, will focus program impacts on natural resources that are of specific concern for a State, or the specific geographic areas within a State. Applications will be evaluated relative to other applications addressing similar priority resource concerns to facilitate a competitive ranking process among applicants who face similar resource challenges. NRCS will make funding for CSP available nationwide on a continuous application basis.

The 2008 Act requires NRCS to manage CSP to achieve a national average rate of $18 per acre, which includes the costs of all financial and technical assistance, and any other expenses associated with program enrollment and participation. NRCS will use a producer self-screening checklist to help potential applicants decide for themselves whether CSP is the right program for them and their operation. The process focuses on basic information about CSP eligibility requirements and contract obligations.

The NRCS will establish a national target to set aside five percent of CSP acres for socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers and an additional five percent of CSP acres for beginning farmers or ranchers. State Conservationists will obtain advice from State Technical Committees and local working groups on State program technical policies, outreach efforts, and program issues.

For more information about CSP, go to www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/new_csp/csp.html.

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