Taylor McDonald

Dec 02, 2016  |  Today's News

IL Corn supports and encourages farmers that take proactive steps toward conservation on their land. One avenue to learn about and implement conservation practices is through the USDA's Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The program has enlightened and reassured farmers who may be hesitant to try practices like cover crops. If you're interested in learning more, they'll be holding informational meetings about the program's updates and expansion. Here's the USDA news release:

Did you know the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is USDA’s largest conservation program? It now covers the most acres on America’s private lands because since 2010, land managers enrolled about 70 million acres. There is still a need and a place for set-aside of farm land, but the long-term solution goes beyond that.  Whether you ask local farmers who use CSP or you ask State Conservationist Ivan Dozier why CSP is so popular, you can sum it up in two words: Working Lands.

“I’m a conservationist. But I’m still a farmer who produces crops to make money. The CSP program lets me do both,” says Dan Hesterberg. He rents ground in Vermilion County where he grows row crops and raises grass-fed beef. He is a long-time no-tiller who used CSP to begin experimenting with cover crops back in 2012. He now plants them on three-fourths of his land and incorporates them into his rotational grazing system. “I’ve got no erosion on this farm and I’m building soil health on these acres instead of just letting them set idle,” Hesterberg says.

USDA has programs to take land out of production and manage crop surplus issues. There are also programs specifically created to repair damage and address resource issues on highly erodible ground. The Conservation Stewardship program offers agricultural producers and forest landowners a way to earn incentive payments for expanding conservation activities on their land. They can use cover crops, ecologically-based pest management options, buffer strips, or pollinator and beneficial insect habitat. “CSP encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and new approaches, such as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage, new soil amendments to improve water quality, and techniques for increasing soil health,” says Dozier. The program also offers bundles, where producers can select a suite of enhancements to implement and receive an even higher payment rate.

Hesterberg has a few acres planted as filter strips, but most are production acres--acres he uses to make money and add to the local economy. “Filter strips are perfect ground for set-aside. For me, it pays to have grass or trees on that land. And the rental payment is great for that,” Hesterberg says. But with CSP, he gets a per-acre payment and he receives farm income from crops and from his grazing operation. “For me, it’s the best way to farm,” Hesterberg says.

CSP has been around since 2010, but recently NRCS took feedback and suggestions from farmers to improve the program and make it even better. “We wanted CSP to be easier to understand, simple to use, and let it offer more options that work on any farm operation,” Dozier says. “Our country needs to grow more food to feed a growing population. CSP encourages environmentally safe agricultural production and it does so on a voluntary basis with both landowners and operators. It’s the best solution we have.”

The new CSP is rolling out right now. While the sign-up period is continuous, the deadline for producers to submit an application in order to be considered for funding is February 3, 2017.  The new CSP will help producers better assess conservation options and benefits to their operations and natural resources. New methods and software for evaluating applications will help producers see how they are meeting stewardship thresholds and allow them to pick practices and enhancements that work for their conservation and farm objectives.

According to NRCS’s Vermilion County District Conservationist, Adam Wyant, “Producers can expect to see nearly twice the number of enhancement options and practices to choose from. New planning tools let farmers see their potential payment scenarios early in the process.” Dozier explains that the original CSP was successful and many farmers who were happy with it renewed their five-year contracts. He suspects even more farmers will discover and get involved with CSP now that it has so many improvements.

“Four or five years ago, making the investment to include cover crops on my farm was an expensive proposition that was all on me,” says Hesterberg. “But working with NRCS and the CSP helped me tremendously.” He has seen soil improvements, better infiltration rates, and yields keep getting better. “Plus I’m not worried about any of my Nitrogen going down the river and causing problems,” Hesterberg adds.

Want to learn more about the “new” CSP? Visit or plan to attend one of Illinois NRCS’s three public meetings scheduled for 6th in Sycamore, December 7th in Bloomington, and December 12th in Benton, IL.