State conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Georgia James E. Tillman Sr. announced the NRCS will accept applications for the 2011 Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) through Jan. 7.

The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, commonly referred to as the 2008 Farm Bill, authorized the program. The CSP will be offered in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous sign-ups with announced cut-off application dates for ranking purposes.

This program replaces the Conservation Security program. Persons with a Conservation Security program contract will not be eligible to participate in this new program until their contract expires. The maximum annual enrollment is capped at nearly 12.8 million acres nationwide.

The first step in applying for the CSP will be to complete a three-page, self-screening checklist. The checklist, a fact sheet, and the interim final rule and other documents are available on the NRCS CSP website at www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/new_csp/csp.html and at NRCS field offices.

Producers are encouraged to take their completed checklist to the local NRCS office for use in completing the program application. They will also need to bring their farm maps.

Using the checklist and maps, the producer’s current and proposed conservation activities will be entered in a conservation measurement tool (CMT) by NRCS personnel. This tool estimates the level of environmental performance to be achieved. The conservation performance estimated by the CMT will be used to rank applications.

The CSP is a voluntary conservation program designed to encourage agricultural and forestry producers to adopt additional conservation practices and improve, maintain and manage existing ones.

Applications in Georgia will be ranked based on four priority natural resource concerns: water quality, water quantity, soil quality and soil erosion. Two ranking pools have been established to rank applications with similar resource concerns, one for north Georgia and one for south Georgia.

NRCS field staff will conduct on-site field verifications of pre-approved applicants’ information provided for the CMT.

CSP will offer two possible types of payments—annual and supplemental. The annual payment will be established using the conservation performance estimated by the CMT and calculated by land use type for enrolled eligible land. A supplemental payment is also available to participants who also adopt a resource-conserving crop rotation. The annual payment limitation for a person or legal entity is $40,000. A person or legal entity cannot exceed $200,000 for all contracts entered into during any five-year period.

All individual producers, legal entities and American Indian tribes must meet several requirements to obtain a CSP contract. They must be listed as the operator in the USDA farm records management system for the operation being offered for enrollment.

They must document that they control the land for the term of the contract and include all eligible land in their entire operation in that contract. They must comply with highly erodible land and wetland conservation provisions and comply with Adjusted Gross Income provisions. Additional eligibility requirements apply.

Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie, improved pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forestland and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

To meet stewardship requirements, producers must be addressing one of the resource concerns at the beginning of the contract and meet one of four priority resource concerns by the end of the contract. All CSP contracts are five-year contracts.

Land enrolled in the Conservation Security Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program are ineligible for the new Conservation Stewardship Program.

For more information about the CSP, contact the LaFayette-Dalton Field Office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service at 208 N. Duke St., Suite C in LaFayette, call 706-638-2207 extension 3, or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/new_csp/csp.html.

For more information about conservation programs in Georgia, visit www.ga.nrcs.usda.gov.