By Author

Jeff Schahczenski
Executive Director
Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
3040 Continental Drive
Butte, MT 59701

Conservation Security Program (CSP) and Organic Farmers and Ranchers.

FY 2005 CSP funding is set and will be supporting many great conservation farmers and ranchers in the 212 designated watersheds nation wide. Organic producers as a group are some of the best conservation farmers and ranchers in the nation (almost by definition). Sign-up for CSP will be beginning soon in these 212 watersheds nation wide.

Accessing the resources of this program is, in part, recognition of the wonderful environmental services that organic producers have provided to society for the last several decades. These are real resources. Here in Montana where I live, the AVERAGE value of a 10 year CSP contract in FY 2004 was worth $261,225!

However, dealing with the Natural Resources Conservation Service bureaucracy and its paper work can be a daunting. Also, because organic growers have not often accessed federal program benefits in the past, it may be a new experience for an organic producer to deal with NRCS and often for NRCS to deal with organic producers. Some basic steps to help are:

1. Find out if you are in one of the designated CSP watersheds. At least 50% of the farm or ranch must be within the watershed. Remember watersheds DON’T follow county lines. If you have access to the Internet then go to www.nrcs.usda.gov click on programs and click on CSP and you will get a map. OR go to your states NRCS web site and there should be details there as well. Montana's NRCS CSP site is done very well and can be accessed at www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/. Other state NRCS offices should have this sites as well.

2. Call your local NRCS staff person and ask when the CSP workshop is going to be held in your designated watershed, these have started in Montana.

3. There have been some initial “screening” questions that have been set up that largely are intended to keep out folks who probably don’t qualify. HOWEVER, DON’T worry about those questions. If you are a certified organic producer you will are HIGHLY likely to be eligible. If they give you’re a hard time about it, call or email me. I want to hear the story.

4. Although theoretically the CSP is farm or ranch size neutral, benefits are likely to be more substantial if you are a larger operation. Nevertheless, find out what you are entitled to receive from the CSP and make the decision to participate only after NRCS assesses what your benefits are likely to be. THIS is an entitlement program. What that means is that if you meet eligibility requirements you are entitled to a payments.

5. If you are certified organic and you are in a designated CSP watershed, don’t give up and don’t take no from any NRCS employee. If you don’t get satisfactory answers from one NRCS employees move up the change of command. Some bureaucrats are really good at ignoring folks or confusing them. Don’t be put off, persevere.

6. You don’t have to be a certified organic producer to receive benefits under this program, most sustainable conservation practices should make you eligible.

Please contact me with any experiences you care to share about your efforts to access CSP. We want this program to work for organic and sustainable farmers and ranchers

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