Guide to applying for CSP during the time of coronavirus

As millions are socially distancing, the work of agriculture has not stopped, although in many ways it has shifted.

For farmers who have been considering applying for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation programs in 2020, opportunities to apply are still available.

But, the application process has changed to allow for appropriate social distancing and improved safety for both customers and staff. All U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offices are conducting business with special provisions in place. As of this writing, staff members are conducting most business over the phone, through email, or via video chat technology, with field appointments when appropriate.

What does this mean for farmers and ranchers seeking to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)? Below, we have compiled some tips and advice for farmers and ranchers seeking to apply to CSP.

The USDA may change procedures at any time in response to the coronavirus—check with your local NRCS office for the most up-to-date information about applying.

Gather your thoughts about what conservation you’d like to add to your operation

Before beginning the application process for a conservation program, it is a good idea to think of how you’d like to enhance conservation on your operation.

When applying for CSP, which rewards existing conservation, it is also a good idea to think through how to describe the conservation practices already underway on your operation.

You can read through some examples of conservation practices that CSP will support at this link.

To apply for CSP, you will need to fill out and submit a form called the CPA 1200. You might find it useful to print this form and look it over before calling NRCS.

Check in with NRCS

Once you have an idea about how you’d like to increase conservation on your operation, call your local NRCS office and let them know you are interested in applying. You can look up the phone number for your local office at farmers.gov, or at this link.

If you call and are prompted to leave a message, be sure to leave your name and number and a few details about why you are calling.

How to apply for CSP when social distancing

The first step in applying for CSP is to complete the CPA-1200 form, which must be submitted by your state’s application deadline. In addition, you must work with your local NRCS office staff to develop a five-year plan for enhancing conservation on your operation. These discussions must be done remotely at this time for the safety of farmers and ranchers and NRCS staff.

NRCS has several options in place to work with farmers and ranchers and do the necessary paperwork to apply for CSP, and you do not need to physically visit your USDA service center. Your local office staff will tell you about online and mail-in options.

Call your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to register for an FSA farm number (if you do not have one already)

To apply for a conservation program with NRCS, such as CSP, you need to have an FSA farm number for your operation. Call your local FSA office to find out if one already exists for your operation from a previous farmer, and to ask about the sign-up process if one doesn’t exist. Look up the phone number of your local FSA office at farmers.gov, or at this link.

Deadlines

The application deadline for CSP varies by state. Deadlines for Iowa and Nebraska are May 29. Contact your local NRCS office to find out the deadline for your state.

By the application deadline, you must have a signed and completed CPA 1200 form submitted to NRCS. 

You will also need to work with your local NRCS office to develop a proposed conservation plan and contract as part of your CSP application. The specifics of this may be worked out after your state’s application deadline, but we advise you to complete them within a few weeks of that deadline.

Field visits

If your application is accepted, which should be announced during the summer, NRCS generally conducts a field visit to confirm various details of your application.

NRCS staff are currently observing social distancing during field visits.

Persistence

If you’re running into issues applying for CSP, reach out to us at the Center for Rural Affairs and we’ll do what we can to help. You can reach us at annaj@cfra.org or kateh@cfra.org. Iowa farmers can also reach out to Practical Farmers of Iowa at jorgen@practicalfarmers.org.