USDA seeks public comment on the new Conservation Stewardship Program
U.S. Secretary Agriculture Tom Vilsack July 31 announced that the Natural Resources Conservation Service is seeking public comment on the new Conservation Stewardship Program, which is designed to encourage agricultural and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation practices and adopt additional ones in their operations. The public can submit comments for 60 days and must be submitted on or before Sept. 28. For full details about the new Conservation Stewardship Program, please visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/new_csp/ or visit your local NRCS field office.
"It is important for Americans to provide feedback about the programs that their government provides on their behalf and they now have this opportunity to comment on the Conservation Stewardship Program," Vilsack said. "We developed the interim final rule for this program in order to appeal to our diverse customers and offer them an equal chance to participate."
The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 farm bill) authorized the Conservation Stewardship Program. Congress renamed and revamped the former Conservation Security Program to improve its availability and appeal to agricultural and forestry producers. The Conservation Stewardship Program will be 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. Congress capped the annual acreage enrollment at 12,769,000 acres nationwide.
Comments on the Conservation Stewardship Program interim final rule can be submitted online, or through regular mail, e-mail, fax or in person. Information on how to submit comments is available at the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service's website at www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/farmbill/2008/index.html and at the Federal Register at www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/.
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USDA is particularly interested in the public's comments on several aspects of the rule, including the best procedures for establishing annual payment rates; weighting ranking factors to maximize environmental benefits; and determining contract renewal criteria, state allocations and priority resource concerns. The Conservation Stewardship Program final rule is expected to be completed in fiscal year 2010.
USDA administers the Conservation Stewardship Program, a voluntary conservation program designed to encourage agricultural and forestry producers to adopt additional conservation activities and improve, maintain and manage existing ones. Individual landowners, legal entities, and Indian tribes may be eligible to apply for Conservation Stewardship Program assistance. Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forestland-a new land use for the program-and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.
Under the Conservation Stewardship Program, potential applicants are encouraged to use a self-screening checklist first to determine whether the new program is suitable for them or their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about Conservation Stewardship Program eligibility requirements, contract obligations and potential payments. It is available on NRCS websites and at NRCS field offices.
The agency developed a new conservation measurement tool (CMT) to estimate the level of environmental performance to be achieved by agricultural and forestry producers implementing conservation activities. Field staff will conduct on-site field verifications of pre-approved applicant's resource inventory information prior to contract approval. The conservation performance estimated by the CMT will be used for applicant ranking.
The Conservation Stewardship Program has an annual payment limitation of $40,000, and contracts must cover the eligible land in the entire operation. A person or legal entity cannot exceed $200,000 for all contracts entered into during any five-year period. Contracts can be renewed for an additional five years under specific criteria.
The new program will offer two types of payments-annual and supplemental. A Conservation Stewardship Program participant's annual payment will be determined by estimating conservation performance improvements using the CMT and computing it by land use type for enrolled eligible land. An additional supplemental payment is also available to approved program participants who agree to adopt a resource-conserving crop rotation, such as the addition of alfalfa to a small grain, row crop rotation.