A new federal conservation program designed to reward producers based on their management of the natural resources on their land has proven popular with Oklahoma landowners, according to Trey Lam, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

“If the numbers of applications for a program and the total acres enrolled are any indication of support, Oklahoma landowners have embraced the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP),” Lam said. “Our state not only was among the top in the nation in applications for CSP, but we are also among the top states in the total number of acres enrolled in this new initiative. When you consider that CSP is a new program that approaches both farm support and conservation policy from a different perspective, I think that speaks volumes for the interest for this type of program among Oklahoma farmers and ranchers.”

Oklahoma ranks seventh in the nation for the new Conservation Stewardship Program, both in contracts signed and dollars committed during the first ranking period, according to information on the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service website. Of nearly $145 million obligated in 10,630 contracts nationwide, $7,531,213 are obligated in 462 contracts in Oklahoma. Nearly 550,000 acres were contracted by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with producers qualifying for, on average, $17.67 per acre.

Created by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2008 and administered by NRCS, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is a voluntary conservation effort that encourages farmers, ranchers and other land managers who are already acting as good stewards of their land to improve their conservation performance by installing or adopting additional conservation practices and improving, maintaining or managing existing activities.

“Our federal conservation partners, members of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, deserve our thanks and congratulations for actively rolling out this program in the state to help landowners in the conservation of our natural resources,” said Mike Thralls, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “The CSP program was created as a way to acknowledge landowners who already practice good resource stewardship by helping them to enhance and extend their (efforts),” Thralls said.

“The dedication and ability of our federal partner, the NRCS, showed through during this initial CSP sign-up,” said Mike Rooker, chairman of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “When you take into account that we are already putting a record number of conservation dollars on the ground thanks to the Oklahoma Conservation Bond, the Federal Stimulus package and other federal conservation programs and we are doing it with a staff that is smaller than it was 20 years ago, to have a CSP sign-up of this size speaks volumes (about) the hard work and dedication of NRCS employees as well as our conservation district employees.”

“NRCS closed the second sign-up period for CSP on June 25 and Oklahoma stands ready to enroll additional acres if other states are unable to enroll their allocations. It is possible that we will see a larger number of acres enrolled than we did in the initial offering,” said Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

“We are anticipating more producers applying for this program as they see the benefits it provides to their neighbors. With other farm bill conservation programs, producers are cost-sharing with the government, paying money out of their own pocket to undertake improvement to their land or they are taking land completely out of production with programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and losing the ability to produce food and fiber on those acres.

“With CSP however, the federal government is saying ‘everyone gets a benefit when you conserve soil, reduce non-point source pollution, sequester carbon or improve wildlife habitat. Since society as a whole is benefitting from your good stewardship, we are going to pay you on average over $17 an acre for your good work.

“Participants must also agree to do additional stewardship activities because the program is weighted to maintaining as well as increasing stewardship. You can still farm and ranch, you still qualify for other Farm Bill programs, but if you are a good conservationist, we will reward you for your protection of the natural resources. With CSP landowners get rewarded for their good work, the country as a whole gets the benefit from a cleaner and healthier environment, and we are still producing the food and fiber necessary to feed and clothe the world. It’s a win-win for everybody and we are excited to be part of its success in Oklahoma.”

For the types of land enrolled, Oklahoma followed the national pattern with rangeland first followed closely by cropland, but pastureland was third in the state while nonindustrial private forestland ranked third nationally.

Land Use (acres) Nation Oklahoma
Cropland 4,878,339 205,107
Pastureland 754,764 115,335
Rangeland 5,888,855 211,462
Nonindustrial Private Forestland 1,166,978 15,045
Total 12,688,937 546,970