Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that $150 million in funding is available nationwide for agricultural producers through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), USDA’s largest conservation program that helps producers voluntarily improve the health and productivity of private and Tribal working lands. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plans to add an estimated 10 million acres to the rolls of CSP during fiscal 2016.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program is a popular program nationwide because it results in real change on the ground by boosting soil and air quality, conserving clean water and enhancing wildlife habitat,” said Carol Rivera, CSP Program Manager for Maryland. “With this investment, we’ll be able to build on the outstanding conservation record in Maryland, enabling producers to achieve higher levels of conservation and adopt new and emerging conservation technologies on farms and forests.”

NRCS accepts applications for CSP throughout the year, but producers should submit applications by March 31 to USDA Service Centers to ensure they are considered for enrollment in 2016.

Participants with existing CSP contracts that will expire on Dec. 31, 2016 have the option to renew their contracts for an additional five years if they agree to adopt additional activities to achieve higher levels of conservation on their lands. Applications to renew are also due by March 31.

Funding is available for more than 100 kinds of enhancements nationwide to help participants:

•     Improve soil quality through use of cover crops, conservation crop rotations and other activities that increase soil productivity.

•     Use water wisely and improve water quality through enhancements such as more efficient irrigation systems and weather monitoring.

•     Restore habitat for wildlife and pollinators through the use of better grazing systems and improved plant management.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is compatible with their operation. As part of the application process, applicants will work with NRCS field personnel to complete a resource inventory of their land to determine the conservation performance for existing and new conservation activities. The applicant’s conservation performance will be used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments.

Through CSP, NRCS has provided more than $5 million since 2009 in assistance to Maryland farmers and forest managers to enhance conservation on more than 55,000 acres.