Farmers and ranchers in California’s Salinas Watershed have a rare opportunity to participate in a 2002 farm bill program intended to reward those who practice exemplary stewardship.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will hold three workshops to provide information on the conservation security program (CSP) for interested producers. Agricultural producers in California’s Salinas Watershed are eligible to apply. The Salinas Watershed is located in parts of Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and San Benito counties.

Program signup will take place April 18 - May 16, 2008.

“We invite farmers and ranchers in the Salinas Watershed to come to one of our initial workshops to learn about this unique program,” said Ed Burton, State Conservationist for NRCS in California.

“We understand that many producers like to take a wait-and-see approach before committing to new programs,” Burton said. “However, the opportunity for Salinas watershed producers to participate in CSP is unlikely to occur again for at least a decade unless drastic changes in the program are made.”

Burton said that those who can demonstrate high levels of conservation for the past two years are urged to determine if they are eligible to participate.

CSP requires that producers provide documentation of at least two years of stewardship protecting soil and water quality. In the Salinas watershed producers that can also demonstrate work they are doing to improve water efficiency and protect wildlife habitat may be able to qualify for a higher stewardship designation and payment.

Most working agricultural lands in the watershed are eligible to apply, including cropland, orchards, vineyards, pasture, and range. Program applicants will compete in a national funding pool.

More information on CSP, eligibility, and watersheds selected for 2008 (including maps) is available online at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/.

The first set of meetings will give an overview of the program and guidance in filling out the Self-Assessment Workbook. The second set of meetings will provide more detailed program information to interested agricultural producers including an introduction to the California Records Book, required for program participation. Interested farmers and ranchers can attend any of the first round of meetings at their convenience.

The CSP is a voluntary program, first introduced in the 2002 farm bill, that supports ongoing conservation stewardship on working agricultural lands and enhances the condition of America's natural resources. The Salinas watershed was originally announced as an intended focus of the program in 2006; a lack of funding prevented holding the sign up for the program until now. Consult the website or call your local USDA Service Center for more information.

CSP Workshops 2008

Overview & Self Assessment Workshops Part 1

(6:00 – 8:00 p.m.)

April 22 - The Chapala Restaurant, 438 Main St., Salinas Calif.

April 23 - Salinas Valley Fairgrounds cafeteria, 625 Division St., King City, Calif.

April 24 - San Miguel Community Center, 256 13th St, San Miguel, Calif.