USDA accepting grant applications

Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will make available $100 million this year through the Conservation Stewardship Program, and although applications are accepted all year, farmers and forest landowners should submit applications by Feb. 27 to ensure they are considered for this year’s funding. Applications received after that date will be considered for future funding.

This year’s investment might result in the enrollment of up to 7.7 million acres in the program by private landowners.

“CSP is a way of incentivizing farmers and private forest managers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship,” USDA spokeswoman Jane Hardisty said. “By focusing on multiple resource concerns, farmers are able to achieve a sustainable landscape and maintain or increase the productivity of their operations.”

Through the program, participants take additional conservation steps to improve the resource conditions on their land, including soil, air and habitat quality, water quality and quantity and energy conservation.

Hardisty said the program producers are conservation leaders, showing how science-based conservation and technological advancements can improve the environment and farming operations at the same time.

For example, Indiana farmer Mike Starkey carefully uses the right amount of fertilizer and pesticide on his corn and soybean fields.

He also uses cover crops, buffers and no-till as part of a soil health management system. Starkey’s stewardship of natural resources leads to cleaner water and a healthier environment.

The 2014 Farm Bill brought changes to the program including an expanded conservation activity list that will offer participants greater options to meet their conservation needs and protect the natural resources on their land.

These conservation activities, called enhancements, include cover crops, rotational grazing and wildlife-friendly fencing.

“CSP is a great addition to our conservation toolbox for our Landscape Conservation Initiatives, which rally together landowners at the broader level to make conservation improvements that help us tackle our Indiana’s resource issues,” Hardisty said. “Historically, other conservation programs have driven these initiatives, but now with CSP, we’ll be bringing more farmers and forest landowners to these efforts.”

Applications should be submitted to local National Resources Conservation Service offices. As part of the application process, applicants will work with NRCS field personnel to complete a conservation plan and resource inventory of their land, which will help determine the performance for existing and new conservation activities and will be used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments.

A self-screening checklist is available online to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.

For more on technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit