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What is the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)?

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) offers all eligible Pennsylvania farmers and forestland owners the opportunity to be rewarded through land stewardship payments.  Five annual payments can be earned by farmers for maintaining current conservation activities and adopting new conservation activities. 

This program financially rewards CSP participants in two ways; for their existing stewardship of working agricultural land and/or non-industrial private forestland, and for taking that good work to the next level.

Participants have over 70 conservation activity options to choose from.  These activities help farmers with soil health, water runoff, energy savings and wildlife habitat, while maintaining highly productive farmland and forestland.  

How many CSP contracts will NRCS give out?

It depends on how many landowners apply and meet the program requirements, and how many acres they have. The program was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. For the next 10 years, NRCS is authorized to enroll 12.8 million acres in CSP per year.

Is CSP available in my area?

CSP is available in every county in the United States, including each of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania.

When should I apply?

Although there are set timetables for when applications will be ranked and offered to applicants, NRCS will take your application on a continuous, year-round basis.

When will I hear back from NRCS about my application?

After reviewing your application, NRCS will contact you to arrange an interview. However, you will not be asked to meet for this interview until the current national ranking cutoff date has passed.

Although NRCS accepts applications for the CSP program year round, there are only one or two ranking cutoff dates per year, so there may be a waiting period of 6 months or longer between when you apply for the program and when you’re called in for an interview.

How does NRCS decide whether to approve my application?

NRCS staff will rank your application and assign your application with a point value based on the resource concerns that you are already addressing and the CSP enhancements you decide to complete. Those applications that score the highest amount of points will be offered a renewable five-year contract.

What payment amount can I expect to receive?

The specific dollar amount will not be known until NRCS staff conducts an interview and inputs relevant information about your current operation and what you’re willing to do during the life of the contract in the Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT).

What kind of land enhancements can I get credit for putting in place?

CSP addresses a wide variety of enhancements, ranging from on-farm demonstration sites to pollinator habitat creation. Click on the three different land use categories on the home page for more specifics.

Can I enroll just one part of my land in the program?

It is important to note that you must enroll all the land you operate. For example, if you enroll cropland and you also have pasture you must enroll the pasture, too.

Non-industrial private forestland is the exception to this rule.

How can I know if CSP is right for my land?

Start by filling out the self-screening checklist to see if your land would be a good fit for the CSP program. If your farm or forestland currently has some deficiencies in conservation stewardship, CSP may not be the program for you. NRCS offers other programs and technical assistance to address these deficiencies, which must be remedied before a CSP contract can be offered. For information regarding these requirements, contact your local USDA service center.

What is NRCS?

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provides technical assistance to farmers and other private landowners and managers.

Its mission is to provide leadership in a partnership effort to help America's private land owners and managers conserve their soil, water, and other natural resources.

What kind of work does NRCS do?

NRCS provides technical assistance on a wide variety of topics for all private landowners and has been a primary source of soils information for farmers, landowners, developers, researchers and many others. Other areas of assistance include wildlife habitat, water quality and quantity, livestock waste management systems, and assistance with a wide variety of agricultural practices such as cover cropping, no-till systems, and pest management.

What kind of expertise does NRCS offer?

NRCS experts from many disciplines come together to help landowners conserve natural resources in efficient, smart and sustainable ways. Whether developed in a laboratory or on the land, NRCS science and technology helps landowners make the right decisions for every natural resource.

How do I know that NRCS will develop a conservation stewardship plan for my farm that will fit my needs?

NRCS succeeds through partnerships, working closely with individual farmers and landowners. They work at the local level, – in field offices at USDA Service Centers in nearly every county in the Nation. NRCS employees’ understanding of local resource concerns and challenges results in conservation solutions that last.

Why do I have to register my land with the Farm Service Agency, and what is involved?

NRCS works closely with other agencies of the USDA, especially the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which is primarily tasked with administering many facets of farm bill programs.

For the purposes of CSP, a landowner must have their land registered with FSA. This process simply records basic information (such as the landowner’s eligibility to participate in USDA programs, land acreage and current land use, etc) into the USDA system for use when the landowner enrolls in any USDA program.

What is Headwaters RC&D?

Headwaters RC&D is a private, non-profit 501c3 organization based in DuBois, PA. We manage projects that address agriculture, forest resource, community development, environmental education, water resource and recreational needs and serve the residents of Centre, Clinton, Cameron, Clearfield, Jefferson, Elk, Potter and McKean Counties in Pennsylvania.

Headwaters RC&D is responsible for this web site.

What is an RC&D?

The Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) program is a unique combination of private enterprise and Federal assistance that encourages the blending of natural resource use with local economic and social values. RC&Ds respond to the needs of their local communities, both for conservation issues and for economic development through volunteer Councils.

Each RC&D is a multi-jurisdictional, locally defined geographic area designated by the Secretary of Agriculture through a competitive process to receive assistance. The designated RC&D area is sponsored and directed by a council consisting of volunteers representing public and private sector sponsors, other local organizations and the local communities. These organizations represent a diverse cross-section of community interests.

Program objectives address improving the quality of life, including social, economic and environmental concerns; continuing prudent use of natural resources; and strengthening local citizens’ ability to utilize available sources of assistance through Federal and State agencies, and other public and private entities.

Pennsylvania Association of Resource Conservation & Development Councils