Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that USDA will begin issuing Conservation Stewardship and Conservation Security Program payments this month to thousands of farmers and ranchers in all 50 states to help maintain and improve the natural resources on their land.

The yearly contract payments totaling $500 million are authorized under the 2002 and 2008 farm bills.

“By taking steps to enhance the quality of their land, farmers and ranchers are helping to preserve their land and their way of life for generations to come,” Vilsack said. “These landowners should be commended for their commitment to environmental stewardship.”

A total of $320 million in payments is associated with 20,500 new Conservation Stewardship Program contracts initiated in fiscal year 2010. In addition to the Stewardship program payments, a total of $180 million in payments will also be issued to honor the 15,000 older Conservation Security Program contracts for payments due in FY 2011. The majority of farmers and ranchers will receive their payments by mid-December.

The 2008 farm bill replaced the Conservation Security Program with the Conservation Stewardship Program. The new CSP is offered in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Pacific and Caribbean areas through a continuous sign-up.

The Conservation Stewardship Program is a voluntary program that encourages agricultural and forestry producers to address resource concerns by undertaking additional conservation activities and improving and maintaining existing conservation systems. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, rangeland and non-industrial forestland. More than 25 million acres have been enrolled in this innovative program that links conservation payments to environmental performance. USDA is accepting new applications from interested farmers, ranchers and non-industrial private forest landowners.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers both programs and provides technical assistance to landowners. For a state-by-state breakdown of the Conservation Stewardship Program payments, go to:  http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/new_csp/2010contractsdollars.html. For a state-by-state breakdown of the Conservation Security Program payments, go to: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/2011contractsdollars.html.

For more information, contact your local NRCS service center or visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/.