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Conservation Stewardship Program unveiled by USDA


The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service has announced the sign-up period for the new Conservation Stewardship Program, heralding a new and exciting opportunity for farmers, ranchers and other landowners, according to Trey Lam, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

"The new CSP program represents and real opportunity for those agriculture producers and other landowners who practice good stewardship on their land," Lam said. "Unlike traditional conservation programs that cost-share with producers on improvements, this program will actually give a per acre direct payment to producers based on how well they are managing their natural resources. This represents a real opportunity to help the bottom lines of Oklahoma producers."

Created by the 2008 farm bill, the CSP builds on the concepts of previous stewardship programs that were limited to specific watersheds. This new program, however, will be open to every producer across the country.

"The Conservation Stewardship Program changed dramatically in the last Farm Bill", said Ronald L. Hilliard, NRCS Oklahoma State Conservationist. "NRCS took the time to develop a program that would appeal to our diverse customers and offer them an equal chance to participate. We hope that agricultural and forestry producers in Oklahoma take full advantage of the benefits this newly revised program offers."

Under the rules of the program, eligibility will be based on how a producer addresses natural resource issues on their entire operation and on improvements designed to meet goals determined by NRCS. To apply, landowners can use a self-screening checklist that will be available on NRCS websites and at NRCS field offices first to determine whether the new program is suitable for them or their operation. After self-screening, the producer's current and proposed conservation practices are entered in the conservation measurement tool (CMT). This tool estimates the level of environmental performance to be achieved by a producer implementing and maintaining conservation activity. The conservation performance estimated by the CMT will be used to rank applications. States will determine their own priority resource concerns, one of the criteria that will be used to rank applications. States will establish ranking pools to rank applications with similar resource concerns. NRCS field staff also will conduct on-site field verifications of applicants' information obtained from the CMT. Once the producer's application has been field verified and approved for funding, he or she must develop a conservation stewardship plan. Payments for contracts will average in the range of $18 an acre.

Matt Gard, Chairman of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission said that this new program will go hand in glove with state efforts to address natural resource concerns.

"Along with NRCS, the Conservation Commission and local Conservation Districts work every day to help landowners address issues from soil erosion to water quality concerns, to wildlife habitat," Gard said. "We provide cost-share dollars and technical assistance to help reduce the cost of making these kinds of improvements, but with CSP, there is now a program that will actually put dollars in producers' pockets for good stewardship. This is a huge change that will really help reward those good stewards of the land."

Clay Pope, OACD executive director said that this new program points the way to new thinking about agriculture and environmental policy.

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