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June 04, 2010   Email to Friend 

Julie B. Yates
(334) 887-4500
June 04, 2010

AUBURN, Ala. -- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published final regulations for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and extended the batching date for sign up until June 25.

Authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill and administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, CSP is a voluntary program that offers payments to producers who practice good land stewardship and want to improve their conservation performance.

"Voluntary conservation practices by private landowners and producers are an essential part of our effort to improve soil and water quality," said Dr. William Puckett, state conservationist with the NRCS. "CSP is available to all producers regardless of operation size, crops produced, or geographic location."

Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forest land and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

The experience gained during the program's first year, and comments received from partners and the public during the 90-day public comment period, have contributed to a number of important changes in the program rules.

The program's new features include the following:

• Higher payment rate for additional conservation performance. USDA is implementing a split payment structure, with one payment rate for existing conservation activities and a higher payment rate for new activities. This is expected to encourage producers to apply more new activities and thereby generate greater environmental benefits.

• Higher payment limit. The total contract limitation for joint operations is increased from $200,000 to $400,000, with annual payment limits increased from $40,000 to $80,000 to fairly compensate joint operations that produce environmental benefit levels needed to earn the payments.

• New minimum payment. To directly encourage participation by small-scale, historically underserved producers, the rule establishes a minimum payment of $1,000.

• Pastured cropland. "Pastured cropland" is added as a new designation with a higher payment than "pastureland" because of the greater income foregone by producers who maintain a grass-based livestock production system on land suitable for cropping.

• Enhancements. Some conservation enhancements work better when implemented as a system and under the new rule are offered as enhancement "bundles." Participants who implement such comprehensive bundles get higher rankings and higher payments.

• Resource-conserving crop rotation. The definition of "resource-conserving crop rotation" is revised to require the use of grass and/or legumes. Since resource-conserving crops receive supplemental payments under CSP, the rule change ensures that the crops provide a sufficient level of environmental benefit.

Potential applicants are encouraged to use the CSP self-screening checklist to determine if the program is suitable for their operation. Producers can contact their local NRCS or Farm Service Agency Office to begin this process.

NRCS field offices are listed in the telephone directory under U.S. Department of Agriculture or on-line at offices.sc.egov.usda.gov.

For additional information about CSP, visit: www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/new_csp/csp.html.

The CSP final rule is available on line at: edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-12699.pdf.

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