The sign-up process for the updated Conservation Stewardship Program is now open. Friday, Feb. 3, is the deadline for the first ranking period of the 2017 funding cycle, said Henry English, director of the Small Farm Program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

CSP is the largest conservation program in the United States. Since its beginning in 2009, nearly 70 million acres have been enrolled, according to a news release.

Congress limits CSP enrollment nationally. Ten million new acres will be enrolled in CSP in 2017 at which time 12 million additional acres will also be up for renewal, English said.

“Applicants compete for funding within state-identified ranking pools with announced cutoff application dates for ranking periods,” English said. “Producers who sign up by Feb. 3 will be competing for funding against those who have signed up since the last ranking funding deadline,” English said.

The program is designed to encourage and reward resource-conserving practices such as planting cover crops, rotational grazing or ecologically-based pest management.

CSP also doesn’t forget smaller producers, English said. For those who qualify for the program, the minimum contract payment is $1,500, no matter the acreage.

To enroll in the 2017 program, submit an application to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) by Feb. 3. Participants don’t have to know all the details about the conservation practices that will best fit their operation. Those details can be worked out with NRCS later, English said. As part of the process, producers work with NRCS field personnel to complete a resource inventory.

New this year are a new eligibility tool (CAET), a new ranking tool (AERT), minimum contract payment information, added flexibility, redesigned payment structure and expanded options for enhancements.

For more information, contact a local NRCS office or a UAPB Extension program associate. Details: Alexis Cole, 870-630-2005 or – St. Francis, Crittenden and Lee counties; Travis Collins, 870-355-7007 or City of – Chicot, Drew, Ashley and Desha counties; Kandi Williams 870-826-3685 or – Howard, Little River, Miller, Hempstead and Lafayette counties; and Multi-County Agent Stephan Walker 870-575-7237 or – Jefferson, Desha, Lincoln and Pulaski counties.