By SEAN ELLIS
The turnaround time to sign up for Conservation Stewardship Program contracts could be tight this year once a deadline date is announced, and conservation groups are encouraging producers to at least complete the initial application process.
Funding for 2013 CSP enrollments was accidentally cut off in a government spending bill passed in October, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. But the continuing resolution passed by Congress in late March that funds the federal government through the rest of the fiscal year restored the funding.
The recent continuing resolution erases any concerns about funding being available for this year, said Jennifer Miller, a sustainable agriculture associate with the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides.
"We're very excited farmers and ranchers will have this opportunity again this year because we weren't so sure about that a few months ago," she said.
While producers can apply to enroll in CSP at any time of the year, USDA applies a cutoff date for applications to be considered during a particular year. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service has not announced a cutoff date for 2013, but there is speculation it will be in May, Miller said.
The initial sign-up application is only a few pages long and doesn't take long to complete, she said.
"With a potentially short timeline, it is important to get into an NRCS office and start the process," Miller said. "Their local field offices might not have all the details at this point but they will be able to get (farmers) started."
Local NRCS officials don't have any idea when the deadline date for this year will be announced, said Idaho NRCS Resource Conservationist Rob Fredericksen. But a lot of information about the 2013 program can be found at the NRCS' national website under "programs," he added.
NSAC officials say USDA plans to enroll an additional 12 million acres this year.
Since 2009, 50 million acres nationwide have been enrolled in CSP, more than any other farm conservation program over that same period.
Last year, 101 CSP contracts for 256,000 acres were enrolled in Oregon, and there were 77 contracts for 195,000 acres in Washington, 63 contracts for 103,000 acres in Idaho and 31 contracts for 31,000 acres in California.
Five-year CSP contracts are offered to farmers and ranchers to improve water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat on land in current production. The working lands conservation program is available for all types of farm operations, including cropland, pastureland, rangeland and forested acres.
Cost-share funds available through the program "have allowed me to do more (conservation projects) than I would have been able to do otherwise," said Fred Brossy, who owns a 300-acre organic farm near Shoshone, Idaho. "It does two things: It pays some money for you to maintain the existing level of conservation you have achieved, and it provides additional funds to do more conservation."