USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Lincoln "Ed" Burton says the 2006 Conservation Security Program (CSP) sign-up will be held Feb. 13- March 31 in the Northern California's Lower Feather Watershed in Butte, Sutter, and Yuba counties.

The CSP was introduced in California in 2005 in five watersheds. Through CSP, agricultural producers are rewarded for documented stewardship of the natural resources on their land, as well as their willingness to undertake additional environmental enhancements. While the basic program requirement is soil and water quality protection on a portion of the farm or ranch, those who practice conservation methods on all of their land and/or who provide wildlife habitat and other types of environmental protections can qualify at a higher level.

Last year, 391 California producers were awarded 5-10 year CSP contracts with an average first year payment of $13,343. USDA originally announced a 2006 selection of three watersheds in California (110 watersheds nationally). Congressional appropriations and the budget reconciliation processes pared back the amount of funding available for the program and thus the number of watersheds eligible for participation in 2006.

Whole farm offers

A change in CSP nationwide in 2006 will be to give priority to applicants who offer their whole farm or ranch for a CSP contract. This will more closely align program participation with the intent of rewarding the producers who have already achieved a high level of stewardship on their operation.

To assess their current levels of conservation relative to program requirement, producers should review the CSP self-assessment available at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp/ or in hard copy at USDA Service Centers. The same site shows a map of the Lower Feather Watershed. To be eligible for CSP in California in 2006, most of a producer's agricultural operation must fall within the boundaries of this watershed.

Additional information about CSP is available from your local USDA Service Center or at http://www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp.