COLUMBIA, MO — Farmers in select southeast Missouri counties have an immediate opportunity for multi-year conservation payments through the new USDA Conservation Security Program.

The program, which has a July 6-30 sign-up period, is specifically aimed at the Little River Ditches watershed area, according to Rob Myers, adjunct associate professor of agronomy at the University of Missouri and director of the Jefferson Institute.

“Farmers in the Bootheel should take a close look at this program to see if it fits with their operations,” Myers said. The program is administered through Natural Resources Conservation Service offices in the Missouri counties of Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Scott, Stoddard, Pemiscot, Dunklin and New Madrid. The program extends into the Arkansas counties of Craighead, Mississippi, and Poinsett.

About $41 million is available nationally for distribution in 18 watersheds, according to Dwaine Gelnar, assistant state conservationist with the Missouri NRCS office.

“While the goal is to make this a nationwide program, funds this year are targeting specific areas for water quality and soil quality improvement,” Gelnar said. The Little River Ditches watershed is unique in its topography, use of irrigation, the high use of fertilizers and pesticides due to the types of crops grown in the region, and its proximity to the Mississippi River.

As with the more familiar Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), farmers signing up for participation in this CSP will be competing with producers and landowners from all eligible areas, not just with those in their county or state.

A twist in the CSP, Gelnar said, is that before sign-up, farmers must complete self-assessment workbooks to see if they are eligible before completing the sign-up process. Meetings to help producers with the self-assessment process will take place during the early stages of the sign-up period.

“Check with your county NRCS office to find out when these meetings are taking place,” he said.

Next year, NRCS has announced the areas to be funded will be different, and they are expected to change each year, unless Congress significantly expands funding for the program.

“This may be the only opportunity in the near future for farmers in southeast Missouri to sign up for the program,” Myers said. “A wide variety of farming practices can receive support under this program, including use of crops that conserve irrigation water, such as sunflowers. Farmers can also receive support for use of cover crops, vegetative filter strips and a number of traditional conservation approaches.”

Payments to farmers will be through a multi-year contract, and can include both cost-share payments and “enhancement” payments that provide a flat amount per acre. The total available payments will be based on the number of relevant practices used, the type of land being enrolled and the number of acres. Farmers can enroll part or all of their farms, depending on how well they meet eligibility criteria.

General information also is available on the Internet at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/ or at http://www.mo.nrcs.usda.gov/.

Greg Horstmeier is news director for Extension and Ag Information, University of Missouri.