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USDA Releases CSP Rule and Seeks Wetlands Partnerships
In two announcements made in early October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service published its final rule for implementation of the Conservation Stewardship Program, and announced $30 million available in technical and financial assistance through the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP).
The new rules affecting implementation of the Conservation Stewardship Program come as a result of changes made in the 2018 Farm Bill. The final rule better aligns CSP with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program through common applications, contracting operations, conservation planning, conservation practices, and related administrative procedures.
Initial updates to CSP included in the interim rule that remain in the final rule are:
- Increased payment rates for adoption of cover crop rotations.
- Introduced a new supplemental payment for advanced grazing management.
- Created a one-time payment for developing a comprehensive conservation plan.
- Provided specific support for organic and transitioning to organic production activities.
In addition, the agency made changes to the interim rule after receiving more than 600 public comments. The changes to the interim rule that are now found in the final rule are:
- Added emphasis to enhancing soil health as a way that program participants can achieve program goals.
- Modified language pertaining to locally led conservation by specifying that NRCS will solicit input from the State Technical Committees and by adding new Tribal Conservation Advisory Councils.
- Specified that, with local working groups, these entities will “develop state-level technical, outreach and program materials.”
- Made minor edits to and amended definitions for “enhancement,” “management-intensive rotational grazing,” and “resource-conserving crop.”
- Provided clarity to producers by adjusting language related to the set-aside for historically underserved producers.
- Adjusted the language for early start waivers to align with EQIP and reflect that the provision applies only to new conservation activities.
- Allowed for more than one contract renewal but extend the two-year program ineligibility period to include those who apply for renewal and are not selected.
In an October 5th announcement, the NRCS made up to $30 million available for technical and financial assistance through WREP. These funds can be used by conservation partners to protect and restore critical wetlands on agricultural lands in order to improve water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, and reduce impacts from flooding.
“This partnership enhances the locally driven process to better address critical wetland functions that progress beyond localities,” said Kevin Norton, acting Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “WREP works with other NRCS landscape-level conservation efforts to coordinate the delivery of conservation assistance to producers in targeted areas that yield the most impacts for accelerated benefits nationally and regionally. Continuing to leverage these partnerships helps us continue the important work with producers to help recover the health of wetland ecosystems on working lands.”
The deadline for 2021 WREP proposals is November 30 and NRCS will be hosting an online partner proposal workshop on October 22. More information about proposals and the workshop are available on the WREP website.