Conservation Security Program

Conservation Security Program

The Conservation Security Program (CSP) is a voluntary conservation program in the United States that supports ongoing stewardship of private agricultural lands by providing payments and technical assistance for maintaining and enhancing natural resources. The program provides not only financial, but technical assistance to promote the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life, and other conservation purposes.

Congress established the CSP under the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (FSRIA), which amended the Food Security Act of 1985. The Conservation Security Program is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).


Program coverage

The CSP can be used on Tribal and private working lands. All 50 states and U.S. territories in the Caribbean and Pacific basins have all incorporated the CSP. The program provides equitable access to benefit all producers, regardless of size of operation, crops produced, or geographic location. The CSP helps producers maintain conservation stewardship and implement additional conservation practices that provide added environmental enhancement, while creating powerful incentives for other producers to meet those same standards of conservation performance. The NRCS believes “The conservation benefits gained will help farms and ranches be more environmentally sustainable and will increase the natural resources benefits provided to all Americans.” [1]

Program tiers

The Conservation Security Program uses a three-tiered approach to pay the land owners. The producer voluntarily chooses the tier for participation. A conservation security plan must be approved in order for the producer to be eligible (3).

Tier I is the first level that land owners can participate in.. At this level, the farmer signs a five-year plan that addresses soil quality and water quality to the described minimum level of treatment for eligible land uses on part of the agricultural operation prior to acceptance (3,6,7).

Tier II is the middle tier. The farmer signs a 5 to 10 year contract that addresses soil quality and water quality to the described minimum level of treatment on all eligible land uses on the entire agricultural operation prior to acceptance and agree to address one additional resource by the end of the contract period (3,6,7).

Tier III is the last and final tier. In this tier, the farmer signs a 5 to 10 year plan where the producer must have addressed all applicable resource concerns to a resource management system level that meets the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide standards on all eligible land uses on the entire agricultural operation before acceptance into the program and have riparian zones adequately treated (3,7).

Program functions

As with any program a person can become involved with, the Conservation Security Program has only a few steps in how the process works. According to the NRCS, the first step for the CSP is to know what selected watersheds across the Nation the CSP is offered in. Anyone can find the list of selected watersheds on the NRCS website or at their offices located nationwide. Next, producers complete a self-assessment, including a description of conservation activities on their operations, to help determine their eligibility for CSP at the time. Once again, the NRCS website offers the self-assessment page, as does their state offices. Once an eligible producer in the selected watershed completes the self-assessment, they must schedule an interview to submit an application at their local NRCS office. Then based on the application, description of current conservation activities, and the interview, the NRCS determines CSP eligibility and in which program tier and enrollment category the applicant may participate (3).

During the first year the program was in operation about 9,000 people contacted a field office or attended a local workshop about the CSP the first year. About 4,800 producer requests were registered at the local field office. Of these, 2,800 complete the self-assessment put forth by the program and made application towards the program. And finally, 2,180 contracts were approved as eligible for the Conservation Security Program. The USDA actually accepted all eligible CSP applications that were submitted during the first sign-up period (6).


In order to be eligible for the Conservation Security Program, the producer and producer’s operation first must meet the basic eligibility criteria. The CSP requires that the land must be privately owned or Tribal land and the majority of the land must be located within one of the selected watersheds. Also, the applicant must be in compliance with highly erodible and wetland provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985, have an active interest in the agricultural operation, and have control of the land for the life of the contract. The applicant for the CSP must also share in the risk of producing any crop or livestock and be entitled to share in the crop or livestock marketed for the operation (6).


Often people wonder[who?] why the NRCS implemented the CSP on a watershed basis instead of a nationwide bases. The NRCS stands behind their decision and believe a staged, watershed-based implementation of CSP made the most sense – economically, practically, and administratively. They feel that focusing on high priority watersheds will reduce the administrative burden on applicants, and will reduce the costs of processing a large number of applications that cannot be funded. Also, the NRCS expects that a significant number of producers will seek participation in the Conservation Security Program and ask for assistance to determine their potential eligibility for the program. By law, the NRCS cannot incur technical assistance costs in excess of 15 percent of the funds expended in that fiscal year for the CSP. Given this modest service funding, the NRCS must focus and limit the land and landowners that its conservations can serve at one time. Offering the Conservation Security Program in only selected watersheds provides that focus (4,6).

In the fiscal year of 2004, 18 watersheds from across the Nation were selected as part of the Conservation Security Program. In 2005, the number of watersheds increased drastically to 202 to have at least one per state and the Caribbean area. As the CSP expands, other watersheds will be selected each year with the input of the State Conservationists, until landowners in every watershed have had a chance to participate (4,5).

NRCS uses watershed prioritization to determine specific areas eligible for accepting CSP applications in each sign-up. The NRCS nationally prioritizes the watershed based on a score derived from a composite index of existing natural resource, environmental quality, and agricultural activity data. The watershed prioritization and identification process considers several factors. Some of these factors include vulnerability of surface and ground water quality. Also, potential for excessive soil quality degradation and condition of grazing land are also factors that are considering in determining the watersheds used for the Conservation Security Program (4,6).


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