Congress Fixes Conservation Stewardship Funding
Center for Rural Affairs Offers Farm Bill Helpline to Assist Producers
Lyons, NE – Farmers and ranchers will again have the opportunity to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which rewards producers for conservation practices on working lands, thanks to passage of legislation that replaces the funding for 2013 CSP enrollment that was accidently cut off in the government spending bill that passed last October.
“This legislation removes the remaining obstacles to farmers and ranchers having the opportunity to enroll in CSP this year,” said Traci Bruckner, Assistant Policy Director for the Center for Rural Affairs. “It is a welcome move by Congress to address this oversight because there are farmers and ranchers who have been waiting to sign up for this program and each year there are twice as many, or more, applying than can receive contracts under available funding.”
According to Bruckner, USDA can now proceed with enrolling just over 11 million acres of farm and ranch land in the program this year, bringing the program to a grand total of 62 million acres by year’s end. The funding error was fixed by a bill that would provide continuing funding for the federal government for the next six months – the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. The Senate passed the bill on a 73 to 26 vote on March 20th, followed by passage in the House of Representatives on March 21st by a vote of 318 to 109.
“We’ve pressed for this result since last October when the first government funding bill accidentally shut off CSP enrollment for 2013, so we want to celebrate this,” added Bruckner. “And we’re going to continue working with farmers and ranchers who want to apply to the program.”
Bruckner encouraged potential applicants to move forward now, before planting season is underway and many become too busy in the field to get away. While CSP is a continuous signup program and producers can apply to enroll at any time of the year, USDA applies a cut-off date for applications to be considered during a particular fiscal year. Once the cut-off date is past, producers may continue to apply for the program, but they will not be considered for entry until the spring of the following year, in this case spring of 2014.
“We know the previous sign-ups have yielded some great success stories for farmers and ranchers, but also some disappointments and frustrations,” Bruckner continued. “That’s why we want farmers, ranchers and others to call the Center for Rural Affairs’ Farm Bill Helpline with questions about the application process and to share their experiences, both positive and negative.”
While the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has yet to decide on a deadline for farmer and rancher applications, there is speculation it will likely be in May. That short timeline should provide further motivation for farmers and ranchers to visit their local NRCS office now and start the application process right away, suggested Bruckner.
“CSP is one of the most popular conservation programs at NRCS, enrolling nearly 39,000 farmers and ranchers operating 50 million acres of farm and ranch land under five-year CSP conservation contracts worth $3.5 billion,” said Bruckner. “Through our helpline you will speak to someone who is knowledgeable about the program rules to help you understand how to participate in the program.”
Producers can call (402) 687-2100 and ask for the Farm Bill Helpline or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to access assistance from the Center for Rural Affairs in applying to CSP as well as other conservation and related programs established in the Farm Bill.
Potential applicants should also visit their NRCS local service center (http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?agency=nrcs).
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.