Conservation Stewardship Program Update

From Kiera Franz, Environmental Policy Advisor,
National Association of Wheat Growers

The NAWG Environment and Renewable Resources Committee held a conference call with representatives from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) regarding the modifications to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). For the fall 2016 (FY2017) enrollment in CSP (new enrollment), the application process will be changed and the enhancements associated with the program will be updated and expanded.

The process to make the changes to CSP have been ongoing for two years and are based on producer input, feedback about the program and application process and input from field office staff. The goal is to make the program easier to implement, easier for producers to understand and to tie the enhancements to the existing NRCS Conservation Practice Standards. A more direct tie to the science-based practice standards will allow NRCS to quantify the environmental benefits of the program and hopefully make the program easier to defend against potential attacks, such as the use of federal government dollars with uncertain/unknown benefits to growers and the environment. The revisions should help producers understand what will happen from the time a producer makes the application and provide more flexibility if changes happen to a grower’s  operation. The program will also focus on the locally led process, with local work groups and state technical committees providing input on resources concerns & priorities and raking criteria & questions.

NRCS is using three teams to focus their work:

1. Tool-revised tool/instrument for field staff to use to rank applications; new CSP can have multiple ranking periods (like EQIP today); Local Work Groups will establish ranking questions; State Technical Committees will help establish ranking criteria;

2. Enhancements-50 additional enhancements; tied to a resource concern and a producers conservation/stewardship plan; and

3. Training-Training of NRCS staff is underway.

August-internal NRCS communications & training.
September-external communications (grower groups, etc., comments on ideas about what is important in these communications appreciated;
Early September-release of CSP enhancements for fall enrollment;
November-rollout of new program (fall enrollment period to begin); and
January-enter into contracts with growers.