Next year’s first Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) ranking-period cutoff date is Jan. 13, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced.

“CSP is one of our most popular conservation programs, and we expect to receive many applications,” says NRCS Chief Dave White. “I encourage all farmers and ranchers who are interested in applying to contact their local NRCS office as soon as possible so they can meet the deadline.”

The program is offered in all 50 states and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through continuous signups. White says it provides many conservation benefits, including improvement of water and soil quality, wildlife habitat enhancements and adoption of conservation activities that address the effects of climate change. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland, non-industrial private forest land and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help potential applicants determine if the program is suitable for their operations. The checklist highlights basic information about eligibility requirements, contract obligations and potential payments. It’s available from local NRCS offices and on the CSP Web page.

As part of the application process, applicants will work with NRCS field personnel to complete the resource inventory using a Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT). The CMT determines the conservation performance for existing and new conservation activities. The applicant’s conservation performance will be used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments.

Nearly 21,000 applicants enrolled in 2010, adding 25.2 million acres to the conservation program, says White.