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Visit NRCS office now to apply for CSP

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 05/28/2013 8:03 AM

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LAKE CITY, Minn. — Farmers have until May 31 to sign up for the latest round of the Conservation Stewardship Program.

"CSP offers payments to producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press release. "It's about conservation activities on the entire operation focusing on multiple resource concerns."

Wes Moechnig, a Lake City dairy and crop farmer, has two CSP contracts. Both are five-year contracts.

The first contract covers 496 acres of crop and pasture land. It began in 2009. The second began in 2010 and covers 205 acres.

Minnesota ranks first in the nation in the number of contracts and funding obligated, said Adam Warthesen of the Land Stewardship Project. As of 2012, the state had 3,232 contracts and more than $260 million obligated. The national average payment is $18 per acre, yet cropland rates tend to be higher than that because rangeland and non-industrial private forest are less than the national average.

Moechnig said his payment is higher than the national average and he receives the payment on all the land he has enrolled in the CSP. All the enhancements have a different value. Producers are given points based on the enhancements they choose to make and those points translate into dollars, he said.

He chose to enroll in the CSP because he farms with a conservation mindset. The CSP helps him as a farmer and it also helps the environment.

The enhancements he's established include extending his hay rotation from two years to three; delaying hay cutting to benefit wildlife and using a bar ahead of the tractor to flush wildlife out when cutting hay. He's also installed solar-powered fences in the pasture and moves the mineral and salt block so no one area gets overly trampled. He practices oil reclamation and avoids overgrazing.

"It is all little things . . . but it does require documentation," Moechnig said.

It was worth it to add the enhancements, as it wasn't that hard to do. The enhancements are probably better for them in the long run, he said.

In 2012, there were 87 different enhancements in eight resource areas to choose from, according to the Land Stewardship Project. The resource areas: Soil erosion, water quality, air quality, wildlife, soil quality, water quantity, energy and biodiversity.

Moechnig said producers need to sit down with a Natural Resources Conservation Service staff person and review the enhancements and see what they're eligible for. The enhancements have to be in addition to what a person is already doing.

The NRCS staff was good to work with and helped him determine which enhancements would work for him. He considered their suggestions and selected the ones that fit his operation.

Most people have things they've considered adding to their operation, but they're leery to make change. The CSP allows a chance to be reimbursed for making those conservation-minded improvements, he said.

The changes don't cost yields, Moechnig said, rather they are meant to improve the bottomline.

He documents all his CSP enhancements and has an annual review with the NRCS. The possibility of an audit exists, he said, but the little bit of paperwork doesn't deter him and he said he'd reapply if given the opportunity when his contracts expire.

The Conservation Stewardship Program is open to all farmers and sign up is continuous. However, the current ranking period closes May 31. Nearly $175 million in funding is available to enroll up to 12.6 million acres during this sign up.

In the program's first four enrollment years, 2009-2012, NRCS has enrolled nearly 39,000 farmers and ranchers operating 50 million acres of land under contracts worth $3.3 billion.

The enrollment process is competitive, based on conservation and environmental benefits.

To learn more, contact your NRCS office or go to the CSP website at www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/csp/ .