First cutoff date for new USDA program is scheduled for Sept. 30

The cutoff date for the first signup period for the U.S. Depart??ment of Agriculture?s new Conservation Stewardship Program is scheduled for Sept. 30.

CSP is a voluntary program that encourages agricultural and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation activities and adopt additional ones on their operations.

The signup period began Aug. 10.

?This program will help the nation?s agricultural and forestry producers reach greater levels of conservation performance, which will help protect our land and water,? Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said.

?The conservation benefits derived from maintaining and enhancing natural resources will improve the quality of soil and water, assist in addressing global climate change, and encourage environmentally responsible energy production,? Merrigan said.

Agricultural and forestry producers must submit applications by Sept. 30 to be considered for funding in the first ranking period.

To apply for the newly revamped CSP, potential participants will be encouraged to use a self-screening checklist to determine whether the new program is suitable for them or their operation. It will be available on NRCS Web sites and at NRCS field offices.

After self-screening, the producer?s current and proposed conservation practices are entered in the conservation measurement tool. The CMT will be completed with assistance from the NRCS field office staff.

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.

Eric B. Banks, Kansas NRCS state conservationist in Salina, said priority resource concerns for agricultural land are soil quality, water quality, water quantity, plants and animals (wildlife and domestic).

The priority resource concerns for nonindustrial private forest land are soil erosion, soil quality, water quality, plants and animals (wildlife and domestic).

States will establish ranking pools to rank applications with similar resource concerns.

?In Kansas, based on recommendations received from the Kansas State Technical Committee, the state will be divided into three geographic ranking pools for agricultural land and one statewide ranking pool for nonindustrial private forest land,? Banks said.

He added that these geographic ranking pools will align with the Kansas NRCS administrative area boundaries.

NRCS field staff also will conduct on-site field verifications of applicants? information obtained from the CMT. Once the potential participant has been field verified and approved for funding, he or she must develop a conservation stewardship plan.

The 2008 Farm Bill authorizes CSP. Congress renamed and revamped the former Conservation Security Program to improve its availability and appeal.

Eligible lands include crop, pasture, range, nonindustrial private forest?a new land use for the program?and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

Eligible applicants include individual landowners, legal entities and Indian tribes.

For information about CSP, including eligibility requirements, producers can visit nrcs.usda.gov/new_csp or visit its local NRCS field office.

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