As the US Department of Agriculture's rapid implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill continues, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced proposed changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), one of USDA’s largest conservation programs for working agricultural lands.

“Farmers, ranchers, and non-industrial forestland owners enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program are our nation’s conservation leaders as they go the extra mile to conserve our natural resources,” Vilsack said. “This program continues to enable owners and managers of private lands to reach the next level of conservation.”

The rule also establishes the role of CSP as one of programs to help the Regional Conservation Partnership Program accomplish its purposes. Vilsack said participants will be delivering more conservation benefits than ever under the revised program rules.

USDA published an interim final rule containing the statutory changes to CSP in the Federal Register today. USDA is seeking public comment on the rule through Jan. 5, 2015. The public comments will be used to finalize the interim final rule.

The CSP interim final rule can be viewed at nrcs.usda.gov and the Federal Register.

USDA will publish a final rule, which will establish the program’s policy for the life of the 2014 Farm Bill.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers CSP, which pays participants for conservation performance — the better the performance, the higher the payment. In CSP, producers install conservation enhancements to make positive changes in soil, water, and air quality; water quantity; plant and animal resources; and energy conservation. More than 64 million acres have been enrolled in the program since the launch of the program in 2009.

Vilsack said NRCS is working to simplify the administrative complexity of CSP by streamlining the regulation.

For more on technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or a local USDA service center.