U.S. Code of Federal Regulations
Regulations most recently checked for updates: Dec 02, 2023
(a) This part sets forth the policies, procedures, and requirements for the Conservation Security Program (CSP) as administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for enrollment during calendar year 2004 and thereafter.
(b) CSP is applicable only on privately owned or Tribal lands in any of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands of the United States, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianna Islands.
(c) The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), by and through the NRCS, provides financial assistance and technical assistance to participants for the conservation, protection, and improvement of soil, water, and other related resources, and for any similar conservation purpose as determined by the Secretary.
(a) The regulations in this part will be administered under the general supervision and direction of the Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), who is a Vice President of the CCC.
(b) The Chief may modify or waive a provision of this part if the Chief determines that the application of such provision to a particular limited situation is inappropriate and inconsistent with the goals of the program.
(c) The Chief determines fund availability to provide financial and technical assistance to participants according to the purpose and projected cost of contracts in a fiscal year. The Chief allocates the funds available to carry out CSP to the NRCS State Conservationist. Contract obligations will not exceed the funding available to the Agency.
(d) The State Conservationist may obtain advice from the State Technical Committee and local workgroups on the development of State program technical policies, payment related matters, outreach efforts, and other program issues.
(e) NRCS may enter into agreements with Federal agencies, State and local agencies, conservation districts, Indian Tribes, private entities, and individuals to assist NRCS with educational efforts, outreach efforts, and program implementation assistance.
(f) For lands under the jurisdiction of an Indian Tribe or Tribal Nation, certain items identified in paragraph (d) of this section may be determined by the Indian Tribe or Tribal Nation and the NRCS Chief.
The following definitions apply to this part and all documents issued in accordance with this part, unless specified otherwise:
Activity means an action other than a conservation practice that is included as a part of a conservation stewardship contract; such as a measure, incremental movement on a conservation index or scale, or an on-farm demonstration, pilot, or assessment.
Agricultural land means cropland, rangeland, pastureland, hayland, private non-industrial forest land if it is an incidental part of the agricultural operation, and other land on which food, fiber, and other agricultural products are produced. Areas used for strip-cropping or alley-cropping and silvopasture practices will be included as agricultural land. This includes land of varying cover types, primarily managed through a low input system, for the production of food, fiber or other agricultural products.
Agricultural operation means all agricultural land and other lands determined by the Chief, whether contiguous or noncontiguous, under the control of the applicant and constituting a cohesive management unit, that is operated with equipment, labor, accounting system, and management that is substantially separate from any other. The minimum size of an agricultural operation is a field.
Applicant means a producer as defined in this rule who has requested in writing to participate in CSP.
Beginning farmer or rancher means an individual or entity who:
(1) Has not operated a farm or ranch, or who has operated a farm or ranch for not more than 10 consecutive years, as defined in 7 U.S.C. 1991(a). This requirement applies to all members of an entity; and
(2) Will materially and substantially participate in the operation of the farm or ranch.
(i) In the case of a contract with an individual, solely, or with the immediate family, material and substantial participation requires that the individual provide substantial day-to-day labor and management of the farm or ranch, consistent with the practices in the county or State where the farm is located.
(ii) In the case of a contract with an entity, all members must materially and substantially participate in the operation of the farm or ranch. Material and substantial participation requires that each of the members provide some amount of the management, or labor and management necessary for day-to-day activities, such that if each of the members did not provide these inputs, operation of the farm or ranch would be seriously impaired.
Benchmark condition inventory means the documentation of the resource condition or situation pursuant to § 1469.7(a) that NRCS uses to measure an applicant's existing level of conservation activities in order to determine program eligibility, to design a conservation stewardship contract, and to measure the change in resource conditions resulting from conservation treatment.
Certified Conservation Planner means an individual certified by NRCS who possesses the necessary skills, training, and experience to implement the NRCS nine-step planning process to meet client objectives in solving natural resource problems. The certified conservation planner has demonstrated skill in assisting producers to identify resource problems, to express the client's objectives, to propose feasible solutions to resource problems, and assists the producers select and implement an effective alternative that treats resource concerns and consistent with client's objectives.
Chief means the Chief of NRCS, USDA or designee.
Conservation district means any district or unit of State or local government formed under State, territorial, or Tribal law for the express purpose of developing and carrying out a local soil and water conservation program. Such a district or unit of government may be referred to as a “conservation district,” “soil conservation district,” “soil and water conservation district,” “resource conservation district,” “land conservation committee,” or similar name.
Conservation practice means a specified treatment, such as a structural or land management practice, that is planned and applied according to NRCS standards and specifications.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) means the Commodity Credit Corporation program administered by the Farm Service Agency pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 3831–3836.
Conservation stewardship contract means a legal document that specifies the rights and obligations of any participant who has been accepted to receive assistance through participation in CSP.
Conservation stewardship plan means the conservation planning document that builds on the inventory of the benchmark condition documenting the conservation practices currently being applied; those practices needing to be maintained; and those practices, treatments, or activities to be supported under the provisions of the conservation stewardship contract.
Conservation system means a combination of conservation practices, measures and treatments for the treatment of soil, water, air, plant, or animal resource concerns.
Conservation treatment means any and all conservation practices, measures, and works of improvement that have the purpose of alleviating resource concerns, solving or reducing the severity of natural resource use problems, or taking advantage of resource opportunities.
Considered to be planted means a long term rotation of alfalfa or multi-year grasses and legumes; summer fallow; typically cropped wet areas, such as rice fields, rotated to wildlife habitat; or crops planted to provide an adequate seedbed for re-seeding.
Cropland means a land cover/use category that includes areas used for the production of adapted crops for harvest, including but not limited to land in row crops or close-grown crops, forage crops that are in a rotation with row or close-grown crops, permanent hayland, horticultural cropland, orchards, and vineyards.
Designated conservationist means an NRCS employee whom the State Conservationist has designated as responsible for administration of CSP in a specific area.
Enhancement payment means CSP payments available to all tiers as described in § 1469.23(d).
Enrollment categories means a classification system used to sort out applications for payment. The enrollment category mechanism will create distinct classes for funding defined by resource concerns, levels of treatment, and willingness to achieve additional environmental performance.
Existing practice component of CSP payments means the component of a CSP payment as described in § 1469.23(b).
Field means a part of an agricultural operation which is separated from the balance of the agricultural operation by permanent boundaries, such as fences, permanent waterways, woodlands, and crop-lines in cases where farming practices make it probable that such crop-line is not subject to change, or other similar features.
Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG) means the official local NRCS source of resource information and the interpretations of guidelines, criteria, and standards for planning and applying conservation treatments and conservation management systems. It contains detailed information on the conservation of soil, water, air, plant, and animal resources applicable to the local area for which it is prepared. Guides can be reviewed at the local USDA Service Center or online athttp://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/efotg.
Forage and animal balance means that the total amount of available grazing forage and the addition of any roughage supply (hay, silage, or green chop) is balanced with the amount consumed by the total number of livestock and wildlife to meet their daily consumption needs.
Forest land means a land cover/use category that is at least 10 percent stocked by single-stemmed woody species of any size that will be at least 4 meters (13 feet) tall at maturity. Also included is land bearing evidence of natural regeneration of tree cover (cut over forest or abandoned farmland) that is not currently developed for nonforest use. Ten percent stocked, when viewed from a vertical direction, equates to an aerial canopy cover of leaves and branches of 25 percent or greater. The minimum area for classification as forest land is 1 acre, and the area must be at least 100 feet wide. Exceptions may be made by the Chief for land primarily managed through a low-input system for food, fiber or other agricultural products.
Hayland means a subcategory of “cropland” managed for the production of forage crops that are machine harvested. The crop may be grasses, legumes, or a combination of both.
Incidental forest land means forested land that includes all nonlinear forested riparian areas (i.e., bottomland forests), and small associated woodlots located within the bounds of working agricultural land or small adjacent areas and that are managed to maximize wildlife habitat values and are within the NRCS FOTG standards for a wildlife practice. However, silvopasture that meets NRCS practice standards will be considered as pasture or range land and not incidental forestland since silvopasture is one type of intense grazing system. Areas of incidental forest land that are not part of a linear conservation practice are limited individually in size to 10 acres or less and limited to 10 percent in congregate of the total offered acres.
Indian Tribe means any Indian Tribe, band, Nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska Native village or regional or village corporation as defined in or established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) that is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.
Indian trust lands means real property in which:
(1) The United States holds title as trustee for an Indian or Tribal beneficiary; or
(2) An Indian or Tribal beneficiary holds title and the United States maintains a trust relationship.
Joint operation means a general partnership, joint venture, or other similar business arrangement as defined in 7 CFR 718.2.
Land cover/use means a term that includes categories of land cover and categories of land use. Land cover is the vegetation or other kind of material that covers the land surface. Land use is the purpose of human activity on the land; it is usually, but not always, related to land cover. The National Resources Inventory uses the term land cover/use to identify categories that account for all the surface area of the United States.
Land management practice means conservation practices and measures that primarily use site-specific management techniques and methods to conserve, protect from degradation, or improve soil, water, air, or related natural resources in the most cost-effective manner. Land management practices include, but are not limited to, nutrient management, energy management, manure management, integrated pest management, integrated crop management, resource conserving crop rotations, irrigation water management, tillage or residue management, stripcropping, contour farming, grazing management, and wildlife habitat management.
Limited resource producer means a producer:
(1) With direct or indirect gross farm sales not more than $100,000 in each of the previous two years (to be increased starting in FY 2004 to adjust for inflation using Prices Paid by Farmer Index as compiled by National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS)); and
(2) Who has a total household income at or below the national poverty level for a family of four, or less than 50 percent of county median household income in each of the previous 2 years (to be determined annually using Commerce Department Data).
Liquidated damages means a sum of money stipulated in the conservation stewardship contract which the participant agrees to pay NRCS if the participant fails to adequately complete the contract. The sum represents an estimate of the anticipated or actual harm caused by the failure, and reflects the difficulties of proof of loss and the inconvenience or non-feasibility of otherwise obtaining an adequate remedy.
Local work group means representatives of local offices of FSA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the conservation district, and other Federal, State, and local government agencies, including Indian Tribes, with expertise in natural resources who advise NRCS on decisions related to implementation of USDA conservation programs.
Maintenance means work performed to keep the applied conservation practice functioning for the intended purpose during its life span. Maintenance includes work to prevent deterioration of the practice, repairing damage, or replacement of the practice to its original condition if one or more components fail.
Management intensity means the degree and scope of practices or measures taken by a producer which are beyond the quality criteria for a given resource concern or beyond the minimum requirements of a management practice, and which may qualify as additional effort necessary to receive an enhancement payment.
Measure means one or more specific actions that is not a conservation practice, but has the effect of alleviating problems or improving the treatment of the resources.
Minimum level of treatment means the specific conservation treatment NRCS requires that addresses a resource concern to a level that meets or exceeds the quality criteria according to NRCS technical guides or the minimum tier requirements to address resource concerns as defined in § 1469.5(e).
Nationally significant resource concerns means the significant resource concerns identified by NRCS in this rule and in the sign-up notice as basic program eligibility requirements.
New practice payment means the payment as described in § 1469.23(c).
Operator means an individual, entity, or joint operation who is in general control of the farming operations on the farm at the time of application.
Participant means a producer who is accepted into CSP and any signatory to a CSP contract.
Pastured cropland means a land cover/use category that includes areas used for the production of pasture in grass-based livestock production systems that could support adapted crops for harvest, including but not limited to land in row crops or close-grown crops, and forage crops that are in a rotation with row or close-grown crops. Pastured cropland will receive the same stewardship payment as cropland.
Pastureland means a land cover/use category of land managed primarily for the production of introduced forage plants for grazing animals and includes improved pasture. Pastureland cover may consist of a single species in a pure stand, a grass mixture, or a grass-legume mixture. Management usually consists of cultural treatments: fertilization, weed control, reseeding or renovation, and control of grazing.
Practice life span means the time period in which the conservation practices are to be used and maintained for their intended purposes as defined by NRCS technical references.
Priority resource concern means nationally significant resource concerns and local resource concerns, approved by the Chief, for which enhancement payments will be available.
Producer means an owner, operator, landlord, tenant, or sharecropper who shares in the risk of producing any crop or livestock; and is entitled to share in the crop or livestock available for marketing from a farm (or would have shared had the crop or livestock been produced).
Quality criteria means the minimally acceptable level of treatment as defined in the technical guide of NRCS, required to achieve a resource management system for identified resource considerations for a particular land use.
Rangeland means a land cover/use category on which the climax or potential plant cover is composed principally of native grasses, grasslike plants, forbs, or shrubs suitable for grazing and browsing, and introduced forage species that are managed like rangeland. This term would include areas where introduced hardy and persistent grasses are planted and such practices as deferred grazing, burning, chaining, and rotational grazing are used, with little or no chemicals or fertilizer being applied. Grasslands, savannas, prairie, many wetlands, some deserts, tundra, coastal marshes and wet meadows are considered to be rangeland. Certain communities of low forbs and shrubs, such as mesquite, chaparral, mountain shrub, and pinyon-juniper, are also included as rangeland.
Resource concern means the condition of natural resources that may be sensitive to change by natural forces or human activity. Resource concerns include the resource considerations listed in Section III of the FOTG, such as soil erosion, soil condition, soil deposition, water quality, water quantity, animal habitat, air quality, air condition, plant suitability, plant condition, plant management, and animal habitat and management.
Resource-conserving crop rotation means a crop rotation that reduces erosion, maintains or improves soil fertility and tilth, interrupts pest cycles, or conserves soil moisture and water and that includes at least one resource-conserving crop, such as a perennial grass, a legume grown for use as forage, seed for planting, or green manure, a legume-grass mixture, a small grain grown in combination with a grass or legume, whether inter-seeded or planted in rotation.
Resource management system means a system of conservation practices and management relating to land or water use that is designed to prevent resource degradation and permit sustained use of land, water, and other natural resources, as defined in accordance with the technical guide of NRCS.
Secretary means the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Sharecropper means an individual who performs work in connection with the production of the crop under the supervision of the operator and who receives a share of such crop in return for the provision of such labor.
Sign-up notice means the public notification document that NRCS provides to describe the particular requirements for a specific CSP sign-up.
Significant resource concerns means the list of resource concerns, identified by NRCS, associated with an agricultural operation that is subject to applicable requirements under CSP, such as the additional Tier II contract requirement.
Soil quality means resource concerns and/or opportunities related to depletion of soil organic matter content through soil disturbance or by sheet, rill, and wind erosion, and the physical condition of the soil relative to ease of tillage, fitness as a seedbed, the impedance to seedling emergence or root penetration, salinity, and overall soil productivity.
State Conservationist means the NRCS employee authorized to direct and supervise NRCS activities within a specified State, the Pacific Basin, or the Caribbean Area.
State Technical Committee means a committee established by the Secretary in a State pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 3861.
Stewardship payment means the CSP base payment component of the payment as described in § 1469.23(a).
Structural practice means a land-based conservation practice, including vegetative practices, that involves establishing, constructing, or installing a site-specific measure to conserve, protect from degradation, or improve soil, water, air, or related natural resources in the most cost-effective manner. Examples include, but are not limited to, terraces, grassed waterways, tailwater pits, livestock water developments, contour grass strips, filterstrips, critical area plantings, tree planting, wildlife habitat, and capping of abandoned wells.
Technical assistance means the activities as defined in 7 CFR part 1466.
Technical Service Provider means an individual, private-sector entity, or public agency certified or approved by NRCS to provide technical services through NRCS or directly to program participants, as defined in 7 CFR part 652.
Tenant means one who rents land from another in consideration of the payment of a specified amount of cash or amount of a commodity; or one (other than a sharecropper) who rents land in consideration of the payment of a share of the crops or proceeds there from.
Tier means one of the three levels of participation in CSP.
Water quality means resource concerns or opportunities, including concerns such as excessive nutrients, pesticides, sediment, contaminants, pathogens and turbidity in surface waters, and excessive nutrients and pesticides in ground waters, and any other concerns identified by state water quality agencies.
Watershed or regional resource conservation plan means a plan developed for a watershed or other geographical area defined by the stakeholders. The plan addresses identified resource problems, contains alternative solutions that meet the stakeholder objectives for each resource, and addresses applicable laws and regulations as defined in the NRCS National Planning Procedures Handbook.
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) means the Commodity Credit Corporation program administered by NRCS pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 3837–3837f.
(a) Soil quality and water quality are nationally significant resource concerns for all land uses.
(b) For each sign-up, the Chief may determine additional nationally significant resource concerns for all land uses. Such significant resource concerns will reflect pressing conservation needs and emphasize off-site environmental benefits. In addition, the Chief may approve other priority resource concerns for which enhancement payments will be offered for specific locations and land uses.
(a) In general—To be eligible to participate in CSP:
(1) Applicants must meet the requirements for eligible applicants, including any additional eligibility criteria and contract requirements that may be included in a CSP sign-up notice pursuant to § 1469.6(c);
(2) Land must meet the definition of eligible land; and
(3) The application must meet the conservation standards established pursuant to this section.
(b) Applicants may submit only one application for each sign-up. Producers who are participants in an existing conservation stewardship contract are not eligible to submit another application.
(c) Eligible applicants. To be eligible to participate, an applicant must—
(1) Be in compliance with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation provisions found in 7 CFR Part 12;
(2) Have control of the land for the life of the proposed contract period.
(i) The Chief may make an exception for land allotted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Tribal land, or other instances in which the Chief determines that there is sufficient assurance of control; and
(ii) If the applicant is a tenant, the applicant must provide NRCS with the written evidence or assurance of control from the landowner;
(3) Share in risk of producing any crop or livestock and be entitled to share in the crop or livestock available for marketing from the agricultural operation (landlords and owners are ineligible to submit an application for exclusively cash rented agricultural operations);
(4) Complete a benchmark condition inventory for the entire agricultural operation or the portion being enrolled in accordance with § 1469.7(a); and
(5) Supply information, as required by NRCS, to determine eligibility for the program, including but not limited to information related to eligibility criteria in the sign-up notice, and information to verify the applicant's status as a beginning or a limited resource farmer or rancher.
(d) Eligible land:
(1) To be eligible for enrollment in CSP, land must be:
(i) Private agricultural land;
(ii) Private non-industrial forested land that is an incidental part of the agricultural operation;
(iii) Agricultural land that is Tribal, allotted, or Indian trust land;
(iv) Other incidental parcels, as determined by NRCS, which may include, but are not limited to, land within the bounds of working agricultural land or small adjacent areas (such as center pivot corners, field borders, linear practices, turn rows, intermingled small wet areas or riparian areas); or
(v) Other land on which NRCS determines that conservation treatment will contribute to an improvement in an identified natural resource concern, including areas outside the boundary of the agricultural land such as farmsteads, ranch sites, barnyards, feedlots, equipment storage areas, material handling facilities, and other such developed areas. Other land must be treated in Tier III contracts; and
(vi) A majority of the agricultural operation must be within a watershed selected for sign-up.
(2) The following land is not eligible for enrollment in CSP:
(i) Land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program;
(ii) Land enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program;
(iii) Land enrolled in the Grassland Reserve Program;
(iv) Public land including land owned by a Federal, State or local unit of government;
(v) Land referred to in paragraphs (d)(2)(i), (ii) (iii) and (iv) of this section may not receive CSP payments, but the conservation work on this land may be used to determine if an applicant meets the minimum level of treatment on the eligible land and may be described in the conservation stewardship plan.
(3) The following land is not eligible for any payment component in CSP: Land that is used for crop production after May 13, 2002, that had not been planted, considered to be planted, or devoted to crop production, as determined by NRCS, for at least 4 of the 6 years preceding May 13, 2002.
(4) Delineation of the agricultural operation.
(i) The applicant will delineate the agricultural operation to include all agricultural lands, other incidental parcels identified in paragraph (d)(1)(iv) of this section, and other lands, identified in paragraph (d)(1)(v) of this section under the control of the applicant and constituting a cohesive management unit, and is operated with equipment, labor, accounting system, and management that is substantially separate from any other land.
(ii) In delineating the agricultural operation, USDA farm boundaries may be used. If farm boundaries are used in the application, the entire farm area must be included within the delineation. An applicant may offer one farm or aggregate farms into one agricultural operation and any other additional eligible land not within a farm boundary.
(e) Conservation standards—(1) Minimum tier eligibility requirements:
(i) An applicant is eligible to participate in CSP Tier I only if the benchmark condition inventory demonstrates to the satisfaction of NRCS that the applicant has addressed the nationally significant resource concerns of Water Quality and Soil Quality to the minimum level of treatment as specified in paragraphs (e)(2) and (3) of this section on part of the eligible land uses within the agricultural operation. Only the acreage meeting such requirements is eligible for stewardship and existing practice payments in CSP.
(ii) An applicant is eligible to participate in CSP Tier II only if the benchmark condition inventory demonstrates to the satisfaction of NRCS that the applicant has addressed the nationally significant resource concerns of water quality and soil quality to the minimum level of treatment as specified in paragraphs (e)(2) and (3) of this section for all eligible land uses on the entire agricultural operation. Under Tier II, the entire agricultural operation must be enrolled in CSP.
(iii) An applicant is eligible to participate in CSP Tier III only if the benchmark condition inventory demonstrates to the satisfaction of NRCS that the applicant has addressed all of the applicable resource concerns to the minimum level of treatment as specified in paragraph (e)(4) of this section for all eligible land uses on the entire agricultural operation. Practices or activities shall not be required for participation in the program unless they would have an ultimate conservation benefit as demonstrated by the Conservation Practice Physical Effects matrix in the FOTG. Under Tier III, the entire agricultural operation is enrolled in CSP including other land as defined in § 1469.5(d)(1)(v).
(2) The minimum level of treatment on cropland for Tier I and Tier II:
(i) The minimum level of treatment for soil quality on cropland is considered achieved when the Soil Conditioning Index value is positive.
(ii) The minimum level of treatment for water quality on cropland is considered achieved if the benchmark inventory indicates that the current level of treatment addresses the risks that nutrients, pesticides, sediment, and salinity present to water quality by meeting or exceeding the quality criteria for the specific resource concerns of nutrients, pesticides, sediment and salinity for surface water and nutrients, pesticides and salinity for ground water.
(iii) The Chief may make minor exceptions to criteria for areas, such as tropical and tundra regions, where technology tools are being refined or testing is needed to review performance data.
(3) The minimum level of treatment on pastureland and rangelands for Tier I and Tier II is vegetation and animal management accomplished by following a grazing management plan that provides for:
(i) A forage-animal balance;
(ii) Proper livestock distribution;
(iii) Timing of use; and
(iv) Managing livestock access to water courses.
(4) The minimum level of treatment for Tier III:
(i) The minimum level of treatment for Tier III is having a fully implemented resource management system that meets the quality criteria for the local NRCS FOTG for all applicable resource concerns and considerations with the following exceptions:
(A) The minimum requirement for soil quality on cropland is considered achieved when the Soil Conditioning Index value is positive;
(B) The minimum requirement for water quantity—irrigation water management on cropland or pastureland is considered achieved when the current level of treatment and management for the system results in a water use index value of at least 50; and
(C) The minimum requirement for wildlife is considered achieved when the current level of treatment and management for the system results in an index value of at least 0.5 using a general or species specific habitat assessment guide; and
(ii) All riparian corridors, including streams and natural drainages, within the agricultural operation are buffered to restore, protect, or enhance riparian resources. Riparian corridors, as appropriate, will be managed or designed to intercept sediment, nutrients, pesticides, and other materials in surface runoff; reduce nutrients and other pollutants in shallow subsurface water flow; lower water temperature; and provide litter fall or structural components for habitat complexity or to slow out-of-bank floods.
(5) In the instance of a significant natural event, such as drought, wildfire, pestilence, or flooding which would prevent the participant or applicant from achieving the minimum requirements, those requirements will be considered met so long as the participant or applicant can provide documentation of their stewardship prior to such an event.
(a) Selection and funding of priority watersheds. (1) NRCS will prioritize watersheds based on a nationally consistent process using existing natural resource, environmental quality, and agricultural activity data along with other information that may be necessary to efficiently operate the program. The watershed prioritization and identification process will consider several factors, including but not limited to:
(i) Potential of surface and ground water quality to degradation;
(ii) Potential of soil to degradation;
(iii) Potential of grazing land to degradation;
(iv) State or national conservation and environmental issues e.g., location of air non-attainment zones or important wildlife/fisheries habitat; and
(v) Local availability of management tools needed to more efficiently operate the program, such as digital soils information.
(2) Priority watersheds selected, in which producers would be potentially eligible for enrollment, will be announced in the sign-up notice.
(b) Enrollment categories. The Chief may limit new program enrollments in any fiscal year to enrollment categories designed to focus on priority conservation concerns and enhancement measures. NRCS will utilize enrollment categories to determine which contracts will be funded in a given sign-up.
(1) Enrollment categories may be defined by criteria related to resource concerns and levels of historic conservation treatment, including the producer's willingness to achieve additional environmental performance or conduct enhancement activities.
(2) All applications which meet the sign-up criteria within the priority watersheds will be placed in an enrollment category regardless of available funding.
(3) NRCS will develop subcategories within each enrollment category and include them in the sign-up notice. The development of subcategories may consider several factors, including:
(i) Willingness of the applicant to participate in local conservation enhancement activities;
(ii) Targeting program participation for Limited Resource Producers;
(iii) Targeting program participation to water quality priority areas for nutrient or pest management;
(iv) Targeting program participation for locally important wildlife/fisheries habitat creation and protection; and
(v) Other priorities as determined by the Secretary.
(4) At the beginning of each sign-up, the Chief will announce the order in which categories and subcategories are eligible to be funded.
(5) All eligible applications will be placed in the highest priority enrollment category and sub-category for which the application qualifies.
(6) Enrollment categories and subcategories will be funded in priority order until the available funds specified in the CSP sign-up notice are exhausted.
(c) Sign-up process. (1) NRCS will publish a CSP sign-up notice with sufficient time for producers to consider the benefits of participation prior to the opening of the sign-up period. In the public sign-up notice, the Chief will announce and explain the rationale for decisions for the following information:
(i) Any additional program eligibility criteria that are not listed in § 1469.5;
(ii) Any additional nationally significant resource concerns that are not listed in § 1469.4(a) that will apply;
(iii) Any additional requirements that participants must include in their CSP applications and contracts that are not listed in § 1469.21;
(iv) Information on the priority order of enrollment categories and subcategories for funding contracts;
(v) Specific information on the level of funding that NRCS estimates will go toward stewardship, existing practice, and enhancement payments;
(vi) An estimate of the total funds NRCS expects to obligate under new contracts during a given sign-up, and an estimate for the number of enrollment categories and contracts NRCS expects to be able to fund; and
(vii) The schedule for the sign-up process, including the deadline(s) for applying.
(2) NRCS will accept applications according to the timeframes specified in the sign-up notice.
(d) Selection of contracts. (1) NRCS will determine whether the application meets the eligibility criteria, and will place applications into an enrollment category and subcategory based on the criteria specified in the sign-up notice and into a Tier based on the criteria in 1469.5(e). Enrollment categories will be funded in the order designated in the sign-up notice until the available funding is exhausted. NRCS will determine the number of categories that can be funded in accordance with the sign-up notice, and will inform the applicant of its determinations.
(2) NRCS will develop a conservation stewardship contract for the selected applications. If the contract falls within the enrollment categories and subcategories funded in the given sign-up, NRCS will make payments as described in the contract in return for the implementation and/or maintenance of a specified level of conservation treatment on all or part of the agricultural operation.
(a) The benchmark condition inventory and associated case file information must include:
(1) A map, aerial photograph, or overlay that delineates the entire agricultural operation, including land use and acreage;
(2) A description of the applicant's production system(s) on the agricultural operation to be enrolled;
(3) The existing conservation practices and resource concerns, problems, and opportunities on the operation;
(4) Other information needed to document existing conservation treatment and activities, such as, grazing management, nutrient management, pest management, and irrigation water management plans;
(5) A description of the significant resource concerns and other resource concerns that the applicant is willing to address in their contract through the adoption of new conservation practices and measures; and,
(6) A list of enhancements that the applicant may be willing to undertake as part of their contract.
(b) Conservation stewardship plan. (1) The conservation stewardship plan and associated case file information must include:
(i) To the extent practicable, a quantitative and qualitative description of the conservation and environmental benefits that the conservation stewardship contract will achieve;
(ii) A plan map showing the acreage to be enrolled in CSP;
(iii) A verified benchmark condition inventory as described in § 1469.7(a);
(iv) A description of the significant resource concerns and other resource concerns to be addressed in the contract through the adoption of new conservation measures;
(v) A description and implementation schedule of—
(A) Individual conservation practices and measures to be maintained during the contract, consistent with the requirements for the tier(s) of participation and the relevant resource concerns and with the requirements of the sign-up,
(B) Individual conservation practices and measures to be installed during the contract, consistent with the requirements for the tier(s) of participation and the relevant resource concerns,
(C) Eligible enhancement activities as selected by the applicant and approved by NRCS, and
(D) A schedule for transitioning to higher tier(s) of participation, if applicable;
(vi) A description of the conservation activities that is required for a contract to include a transition to a higher tier of participation;
(vii) Information that will enable evaluation of the effectiveness of the plan in achieving its environmental objectives; and
(viii) Other information determined appropriate by NRCS and described to the applicant.
(2) The conservation stewardship plan may be developed with assistance from NRCS or NRCS-certified Technical Service Providers.
(3) All additional conservation practices in the conservation stewardship plan for which new practice payments will be provided must be carried out in accordance with the applicable NRCS FOTG.
(a) Conservation practice and activity selection. (1) The Chief will provide a list of structural and land management practices and activities eligible for each CSP payment component. If the Chief's designee provides the list, it will be approved by the Director of the Financial Assistance Programs Division of NRCS. When determining the lists of practices and activities and their associated rates, the Chief will consider:
(i) The cost and potential conservation benefits;
(ii) The degree of treatment of significant resource concerns;
(iii) The number of resource concerns the practice or activity will address;
(iv) Locally available technology;
(v) New and emerging conservation technology;
(vi) Ability to address the resource concern based on site specific conditions; and,
(vii) The need for cost-share assistance for specific practices and activities to help producers achieve higher management intensity levels or to advance in tiers of eligibility.
(2) To address unique resource conditions in a State or region, the Chief may make additional conservation practices, measures, and enhancement activities eligible that are not included in the national list of eligible CSP practices.
(3) NRCS will make the list of eligible practices and activities and their individual payment rates available to the public.
(b) NRCS will consider the qualified practices and activities in its computation of CSP payments except as provided for in paragraph (d) of this section.
(c) NRCS will not make new practice payments for a conservation practice the producer has applied prior to application to the program.
(d) New practice payments will not be made to a participant who has implemented or initiated the implementation of a conservation practice prior to approval of the contract, unless a waiver was granted by the State Conservationist or the Designated Conservationist prior to the installation of the practice.
(e) Where new technologies or conservation practices that show high potential for optimizing environmental benefits are available, NRCS may approve interim conservation practice standards and financial assistance for pilot work to evaluate and assess the performance, efficacy, and effectiveness of the technology or conservation practices.
(f) NRCS will set the minimum level of treatment within land management practices at the national level; however, the State Conservationist may supplement specific criteria to meet localized conditions within the State or areas.
(a) NRCS may use the services of NRCS-approved or certified Technical Service Providers in performing its responsibilities for technical assistance.
(b) Technical assistance may include, but is not limited to: Assisting applicants during sign-up, processing and assessing applications, assisting the participant in developing the conservation stewardship plan; conservation practice survey, layout, design, installation, and certification; information, education, and training for producers; and quality assurance activities.
(c) NRCS retains approval authority over the certification of technical assistance done by non-NRCS personnel.
(d) NRCS retains approval authority of the conservation stewardship contracts and contract payments.
(e) Conservation stewardship plans will be developed by NRCS certified conservation planners.