Natural Resources Conservation Service
Huron, S.D. – South Dakota farmers and ranchers are expected to reach a conservation milestone in August. When Lyman County producer Reed Petersek signs a contract with USDA on August 9 to enroll his farm in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), it will mark the 7 millionth acre of land in South Dakota to be entered into the program.
Petersek will sign the contract in a public ceremony the morning of August 9 on the Front Porch at the Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls. The signing event is one of the celebrations that note Agriculture Appreciation Day at the fair.
South Dakota farmers and ranchers lead the nation in acres enrolled in CSP, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program aimed at recognizing producers performing at a high level of conservation that also encourages them to reach an elite status in resource protection. “CSP is our largest financial incentive program for working lands in South Dakota,” says Jeff Zimprich, State Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in South Dakota. “About one in ten South Dakota farmers and ranchers are enrolled in CSP; contracts cover more than 15 percent of the cropland and rangeland in the state.”
CSP has grown from a $9 million incentives program nationally when it began in 2009 to now offering financial and technical assistance each year of more than $1 billion on 70 million acres across the country. “South Dakota farmers and ranchers account for about 10 percent of that national acreage,” says Jessica Michalski, CSP program coordinator for NRCS in the state. “It’s been a very popular program here from the outset, from the first signup in 2010.”
“When I first learned about CSP, I was surprised we weren’t already in it,” Petersek says. “If we can get some technical help and a payment for doing things right—get rewarded for our conservation work—that’s great.” Reed and Erin rotate pastures for their registered 300-head cow-calf herd and 400-head yearling operation south of Kennebec. Their operation is an extension of the Raven Angus family business near Colome that markets registered Angus bulls and replacement heifers; the young couple works with Reed’s father Rod and brother RJ.
CSP—not to be confused with CRP, the Conservation Reserve Program that rests land—focuses on helping farmers and ranchers who are already doing a good job of conservation on working lands to elevate their care of natural resources to another level.
With CSP, Petersek gets an annual payment for his established grazing system, and will get extra payments for what are called enhancements. “We plan to do some fecal sampling to try to find out what the cows are getting from the grass they’re eating, and we’ll add more water tanks and cross-fencing to maximize production, but yet conserve what we have here on our rangeland,” Petersek says. “On our cropland, we’ll continue to do more no-till and cover crops, and do more soil sampling. And we’ll pay more close attention to fertilizer and weed and pest management across the ranch.”
“CSP isn’t meant for any one type producer,” says Shane Reis, NRCS District Conservationist in Lyman County who is working with Petersek. “Reed’s a rancher and it works great for him, but it also works great for his farming neighbors to the north who are rotating five or six crops.” Reis says CSP’s greatest strength is its flexibility. “Each producer can develop a flexible plan that fits his or her operation, to adopt conservation a little bit quicker than they might have otherwise,” Reis says.
There are many enhancement activities available for rangeland and pastureland in South Dakota. Among the choices are incorporating native grasses and legumes into existing stands, patch burning to enhance wildlife habitat, monitoring nutritional status of livestock using NUTBAL, retrofitting water facilities to benefit wildlife, monitoring key grazing areas, non-chemical pest management for livestock, wildlife friendly fencing, and establishing pollinator habitat.
Common enhancements for CSP on cropland include nitrification inhibitors, planting cover crops to scavenge nutrients, using cover crop mixes, establishing pollinator habitat, using non-chemical methods to kill cover crops, precision nutrient application, and extending filter strips or riparian cover for water quality and wildlife habitat benefits. CSP is meant for the entire operation. The operator of record is eligible to sign contracts for five years. It pays participants for conservation performance—the higher the performance, the higher the payment. Producers get credit both for “standard” conservation measures they have already implemented and for new measures they agree to add.
“The program is competitive; only half the applicants got accepted to the CSP this year—in other years, most of the producers who applied were accepted,” Michalski says. “I think what producers like most about CSP is they have a little more financial freedom,” Michalski says. “The CSP payment covers the risk of trying something new like cover crops.”