As I write in The Grazier’s Guide to Trees, the Conservation Stewardship Program can be a very useful way of getting trees established on a farm, even in states that currently do not support silvopasture. This “CSP Strategy” just got a whole lot more interesting because the USDA recently announced that minimum annual payments for CSP will be raised from $1,500 to $4,000! CSP contracts span 5 years, so that’s an increase from $7,500 to $20,000 (at minimum) over the course of the contract, which can then be renewed. This is a great boost to an already interesting incentive program, especially for small producers, as it gives a lot of flexibility, and critically rewards producers who are already using good practices, not just folks who have major resource concerns.
As a review, here’s the “CSP Strategy” I outline in the book:
- Apply for CSP for help with a conservation practice. That could be silvopasture or any number of other practices, some of which are very inexpensive to implement.
- Sign the contract, establish the conservation practice and receive the initial small cost share, plus annual minimum payments of $4,000.
- Use that payment to establish your silvopasture. Providing your own labor can stretch your budget even more. If your material costs are $15/tree, $4,000 would pay for over 250 trees a year.
- This CSP strategy would work especially well for small farms wanting to slowly and steadily implement silvopasture on a budget, regardless of which state you live in.
A huge upside of CSP is that it is generally easy to apply for an access. Each person I’ve talked to who has applied for CSP on their own farm has shared that the process was pretty straightforward and simple.
For those farms in Pennsylvania, the Resource Enhancement And Protection (REAP) program is a very nice complement to CSP, since it’s readily available every year (first-come, first-served), and provides a state tax credit for 50% of the cost of a silvopasture project or other conservation practice. Details can be found on the REAP website. Combine REAP credits with CSP, and you could fund $40,000 of silvo or other conservation practices over the course of 5 years. Other states may have similar tax credit programs, but I am only aware of the program in Pennsylvania.
Overall, this change in CSP opens up a lot more cost-share for small and medium farmers who are already doing good on their farm to make significant improvements to their practices. Silvopasture fits perfectly within that frame as a great enhancement to an already well-stewarded farm.