What comes to mind when you think of a barrier? The most common meanings relate to fencing or obstacles to movement or entry. Barriers can be very beneficial for conservation-minded farmers interested in improving water quality and soil health, but they can also prevent individuals from accessing funding and services, negatively impacting these same operations.
Over the past year, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been on the leading edge of the effort to expand delivery of conservation assistance to producers of all backgrounds and income levels. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is one of many that offer special incentives for historically underserved producers and new options for Fiscal Year 2022 will make these resources more accessible than ever before.
CSP rewards good stewards for actively maintaining and expanding existing conservation activities like cover crops, buffer strips, pollinator habitat and enhanced nutrient management while continuing agricultural production on their land. Participants receive annual Existing Activity Payments (EAPs) for upkeep on conservation activities to address resource concerns met at the time of application. The updated program waives a previous two-year ineligibility restriction for agricultural producers and forest landowners who did not immediately re-enroll when their contracts expired, enabling them to continue receiving payments for implementing practices to enhance the sustainability of the entire operation.
“We offered 45 percent more funding in FY2021 to help the state’s farmers and forest landowners implement management activities to bring out the best potential of more than 63,000 enrolled acres,” said Virginia NRCS State Conservationist Dr. Edwin Martinez Martinez. “This year, we’re taking steps to offer those same benefits to more Virginians and increase participation in this ‘pay for performance’ Farm Bill conservation program that supports rural communities on the front lines of climate change.”
CSP is for working lands (crop, pasture, nonindustrial forest and tribal ag land) and encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and new management techniques such as precision agriculture applications and new soil amendments to improve water quality. Targeted financial assistance is now available for climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices and participants can also benefit from these additional options available through the 2018 Farm Bill:
New supplemental payment for advanced grazing management
Higher payment rates for certain conservation measures, including cover crops and crop rotations
Specific support for organic operations and those transitioning to organic production.
While the NRCS conducts continuous sign-ups for the program, interested producers must submit their applications by March 25 to be considered for FY2022 funding. Producers interested in CSP should contact their local USDA service center or visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.