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Land Eligibility for the Conservation Stewardship Program

A. Entire Agricultural Operation

(1) A contract application must include all the eligible land on an applicant’s agricultural or nonindustrial private forestland (NIPF) operation.

(2)An applicant’s agricultural operation includes all eligible and ineligible land, whether contiguous or noncontiguous, that meets both of the following criteria:
     (i) Under the effective control of the applicant.
     (ii) Operated by the applicant with equipment, labor, management, and production or cultivation practices that are substantially separate from other operations.

(3) An applicant may have more than one operation if they are substantially separate. Determination of whether multiple operations are substantially separate can be established by the answers to a majority test:

  • Majority Test.—Two operations are substantially separate if three of the following four factors are different between the operations:
  • Labor.—Physical activities necessary in an operation.
  • Equipment.—Machinery and implements needed to conduct activities of the operation.
  • Management.—General supervision and direction of activities for the operation.
    Production or Cultivation Practices.—Techniques used to produce agricultural products.

(4) The applicant must provide an explanation and documentation of separate operations prior to submitting an application in order to be considered eligible. Documentation of a separate operation request and determination must be made in writing and kept in the case file.

B. Eligible Land

The following land is part of the agricultural or NIPF operation, and eligible to be offered for enrollment in the program:
     (i) Private agricultural land (cropland, pastureland, and rangeland)
     (ii) Agricultural Indian lands (cropland, pastureland, and rangeland)
     (iii) Nonindustrial private forest land (NIPF)

  • NIPF is rural land that has existing tree cover or is suitable for growing trees, and is owned by an individual, group, association, corporation, Indian tribe, or other private  legal entity that has definitive decision making authority over the land. The following criteria will be used for the designation of NIPF:
  • The land must be rural land.
  • The land must have existing tree cover or is suitable for growing trees and current management will be demonstrated in the completion of the resource inventory questions in the Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT).
  • NIPF is at least 10-percent stocked by single-stemmed woody species of any size that will be at least 4 meters (13 feet) tall at maturity. Also included is land bearingevidence of natural regeneration or planted trees (cut-over forest or abandoned farmland) and not currently developed for non-forest use. Invasive woody species are not considered acceptable and should not be counted as part of the stocking rate evaluation. For mature forests, ten-percent stocked, when viewed from a vertical direction, equates to an aerial canopy cover of leaves and branches of twenty five percent or greater.
  • Forest Openings and Non-forest Land Areas (e.g. Wetlands, Rock Outcrops). Openings within the forest are eligible for inclusions in the NIPF acreage provided any oneopening will not exceed a size limit determined by the State Conservationist.
  • Non-forest Land Areas.— non-forest land areas that exceed the size limits designated by states as forest openings should be excluded from the offered acreage unless the participant provides documentation of forest management activities that have been conducted on these acres within the 10 years preceding being offered for program.
  • If the applicant wants to offer NIPF for funding consideration, a separate application for NIPF will be submitted. If designated for funding consideration, the NIPF component of the operation will be identified separately from the agricultural land, will include all the applicant’s NIPF, and will be ranked in the applicable NIPF ranking pool. If not designated for funding consideration, the applicant’s NIPF will not be part of the agricultural operation.

C. Ineligible Land and Other Land Excluded from Enrollment

(1) The following lands are part of the agricultural operation but ineligible to be offered for enrollment in the program:

     (i) Land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

     (ii) Land enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).

     (iii) Land enrolled in the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP).

     (iv) Land enrolled in the Conservation Security Program (CSP 2002).

     (v) Public land including land owned by a Federal, State, or local unit of government.

     (vi) Land used for crop production after June 18, 2008, that had not been planted, considered to be planted, or devoted to crop production for at least four of the six years preceding that date, unless that land

Had previously been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.

Has been maintained using long-term rotations as determined by the NRCS designated conservationist.

Is incidental land needed for efficient operation of the farm or ranch as determined by the designated conservationist, such as an area of a farm or ranch that had been used for structures that had subsequently been removed.


(2) The following lands are part of the agricultural operation but either do not meet the definition of agricultural land or NIPF or it cannot be determined that it meets the definition of agricultural operation, and therefore are not eligible for enrollment:

(i) Other lands that fail to meet land eligibility requirements include incidental areas that are not in agricultural production, or developed areas on the farm or ranch, such as farm headquarters, ranch sites, barnyards, feedlots, manure storage facilities, machinery storage areas, and material handling facilities.


(ii) Newly acquired or newly eligible land on which the applicant’s management system cannot be demonstrated or documented by the applicant. The newly acquired or newly eligible land will become eligible and can be offered as a separate application once a management system has been established on the land and can be documented by the applicant. Contact your local NRCS field office for guidance related to applications for newly acquired or newly eligible land.

Exception: The Transition Incentive Program, (TIP) of the Conservation Reserve Program, (CRP) is the only exception related to the ineligibility of newly acquired or newly eligible land.


(iii) If a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer has enrolled in the TIP, they must be allowed to apply for CSP immediately after the CRP contract expires and they have control of the land if all of the following are provided:

A copy that the applicant is a signatory on an approved Conservation Reserve Program Contract (CRP-1R).

Documentation of an approved conservation plan for their future system that includes sustainable crop rotations and systems, grazing management or forest management as appropriate.

Evidence that the participant made improvements to CRP land as allowed by Farm Services Agency policy, based on the approved conservation plan during the final year of the CRP contract.

(iv) If all of these requirements are met, the applicant may apply for CSP and answer the CMT resource inventory questions based on the planned system. If one or more of those requirements have not been met the applicant must first establish a system, and then may apply in the same manner as other newly acquired or newly eligible land. For these cases, the on-site field verification may consist of a review of the conservation plan and current field conditions.

Note: This exception does not apply to other land coming out of CRP.


(3) Land for which the operator of record cannot obtain effective control from the landowner for the length of the CSP contract is not considered part of the agricultural or NIPF operation. Therefore, this land is not required to be included in the contract.