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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), honored the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI) in recognition of their organizational efforts to promote and protect the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Three producers were also recognized for their efforts locally, to responsibly steward agricultural land in Wisconsin through CSP. The MFAI also honored two NRCS District Conservationists for their work in helping farmers enroll in the program.

CSP helps agricultural producers, like today's honorees, Gary Sommers of Meadowdale Farms, Jim Stute of Stute Farm, and Robert Pearce of Robert A. Pearce Farms, maintain and improve their existing conservation systems and adopt additional conservation activities to address priority resource concerns.

CSP provides assistance to landowners who practice good stewardship on their land and are willing to take additional steps over the next five years.

Through CSP, since 2009, NRCS in Wisconsin has provided more than $79 million in assistance to farmers and forest managers to enhance conservation on more than 1.5 million acres. NRCS is currently accepting new applications and renewal applications for CSP.

NRCS Districts Conservationists, Brandi Richter of Walworth Co. and David Gundlach of Rock Co., are the ones accepting those applications on the local level, working directly with producers to apply conservation practices.

'I like working with NRCS and with CSP because we assist producers in implementing conservation practices to preserve the land and preserve their profitability,' said Richter.

Gundlach enjoys working with NRCS because of the people he gets to interact with.

'Farmers, my co-workers, partnering organizations like MFAI; all working directly together to make beneficial conservation practices a priority to implement,' said Gundlach.

Producers should submit applications by March 31, 2016, to USDA Service Centers to ensure they are considered for enrollment in 2016. Applications to renew are also due by March 31.

NRCS honored MFAI at the ceremony for their leadership in promoting and protecting CSP.

'MFAI has been instrumental as a partner in helping create, educate, and promote the CSP program to reward good stewards of the land and put additional conservation practices on the ground,' said Jimmy Bramblett, Wisconsin State Conservationist.

Average payments for the program in Wisconsin are $20 per acre for cropland, $14 per acre for pastureland, and $4 per acre for forestland.

'The increase in the minimum payment from $1,000 for beginning and underserved farmers to $1,500 for all farmers entering into new CSP contracts is a huge step forward for incentivizing CSP enrollment for small, diversified farmers in Wisconsin, of which there are many,' said David Andrews, MFAI Executive Director. CSP is open to small and large operations, with farms already enrolled ranging from just a few acres to over 4,000 acres of cropland.

'For many farmers, CSP offers reward and recognition for the conservation they are already doing, plus a little extra incentive to try a few more or new practices,' said Bramblett.

Interested farmers should apply now to be considered for funding. Eligible lands include cropland, pastureland, non-industrial private forestland, and tribal lands. MFAI shares the NRCS passion of helping people help the land.

'MFAI is concerned about environmental issues like soil health and soil erosion – we always have and always will be. We are proud to partner with NRCS Wisconsin on such a great program as CSP because it's a very useful tool in the larger toolkit of agricultural sustainability,' said Andrews.

Visit www.wi.nrcs.usda.gov , or contact your local NRCS service center for more information.

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