Window for 2018 Conservation Stewardship Program enrollment opens

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently announced that farmers and ranchers have until March 2 to submit an initial Fiscal Year 2018 application for the nation’s largest working lands program, the Conservation Stewardship Program. Over 72 million acres across the country—roughly 8 percent of all agricultural land—are currently enrolled in whole-farm conservation contracts. The significant amount of working lands already enrolled in CSP, and the fact that in recent years CSP has had to turn away as many as 75 percent of qualified applicants, is evidence of the voluntary conservation program’s enormous popularity.

CSP’s ability to enroll qualified farmers is largely contingent on available federal funds. The 2014 Farm Bill reduced CSP’s annual enrollment from 12.8 million acres to 10 million acres, which resulted in thousands of qualified farmers being turned away from the program. Funds for CSP and other farm bill conservation programs have also been regularly raided through the annual appropriations process.

Through the 2018 sign-up period, NRCS will enroll an additional 10 million acres of cropland, pastureland, rangeland and forestland in CSP. Interested farmers and ranchers must submit their applications by March 2 in order to be considered for this year’s sign up. Current participants whose initial contracts are set to expire at the end of the year will also have the opportunity to renew their contracts for an additional five-year period; USDA will announce a separate deadline for renewals in the coming weeks.

“CSP has served American farmers for over a decade by helping them to build on their existing stewardship successes and giving them the tools to go above and beyond as true conservation leaders,” said Alyssa Charney, policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The 2018 sign-up window is a critical opportunity for producers across the country to build their environmental and economic resiliency through comprehensive conservation efforts.”

The initial step to apply for CSP is easy and interested producers should act quickly to ensure consideration in this year’s signup. To apply, farmers and ranchers can go to their local NRCS office and submit the initial application materials—a simple form that asks for basic information regarding land ownership, type of production and contact information. Once the initial application is accepted by NRCS, producers are then scored based on current and planned future conservation activities. If applicants meet acceptable conservation levels, they become eligible to compete in a ranking process that determines who will receive contracts. NRCS works down through the list of eligible applicants until acreage allocated to the particular state for that particular year runs out.

While applicants can apply for CSP anytime throughout the year, NSAC urges interested producers to submit applications before the March deadline to ensure that they are considered for enrollment in FY 2018.

“Last year, NRCS implemented a major ‘reinvention’ of the program to make CSP more accessible, flexible and farmer-friendly,” said Charney. “These modifications, based on feedback from producers, field staff and stakeholders, further drove up farmer interest in the program last year, and we anticipate that they will also make the program more desirable than ever this year. We applaud NRCS for incorporating this vital feedback and look forward to continuing to work on ongoing improvements during the 2018 enrollment period.”

The 2018 CSP sign-up is especially significant because it is the final enrollment opportunity under the authority provided by the 2014 Farm Bill, which is set to expire September 30 of this year.

“America’s farmers and ranchers will be keeping a close eye on the farm bill process this year,” said Charney. “They will be counting on Congress to protect and enhance conservation programs like CSP, which has helped tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers increase farm sustainability over the last decade. No program to date has done as much as CSP has to build agricultural resilience, and we hope that Congress takes this unique opportunity to protect and enhance this popular conservation program. NSAC is committed to working on behalf of the many farmers and ranchers that benefit from CSP, and to fighting for a 2018 Farm Bill that invests in the viability of American agriculture.”

In order to support farmers and ranchers as they go through the CSP application process, NSAC will publish an updated Information Alert as details from NRCS become available. NSAC’s Information Alerts provide interested producers with step-by-step sign-up instructions, as well as a complete list of all available CSP conservation options, and are available for free via the NSAC website at

Interested producers are encouraged to also utilize NSAC’s Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which was updated last year to reflect the latest enrollment guidance and includes key definitions, explanations of the ranking and payment system, and helpful hints for accessing the program. NSAC will update relevant materials to support the 2018 CSP enrollment process as information becomes available.