Title 7

SECTION 1470.20

1470.20 Application for contracts and selecting offers from applicants.

§ 1470.20 Application for contracts and selecting offers from applicants.

(a) Submission of contract applications. Applicants may submit an application for CSP at any time to enroll all of the eligible land included in their agricultural operation.

(b) Stewardship threshold requirement. To be eligible to participate in CSP, an applicant must submit to NRCS for approval, a contract offer for the agricultural operation that -

(1) Demonstrates that the applicant's conservation activities, at the time of contract offer, meet or exceed the stewardship threshold for at least two priority resource concerns; and

(2) Would, at a minimum, meet or exceed the stewardship threshold for at least one additional priority resource concern by the end of the conservation stewardship contract by:

(i) Installing and adopting additional conservation activities; and

(ii) Improving, maintaining, and managing existing conservation activities across the entire agricultural operation in a manner that increases or extends the conservation benefits in place at the time the contract application is accepted by NRCS; and

(3) Provides a map, aerial photograph, or overlay that -

(i) Identifies the applicant's agricultural operation; and

(ii) Delineates eligible land with associated acreage amounts.

(c) Evaluation of contract applications. NRCS will conduct one or more ranking periods each fiscal year.

(1) To the extent practicable, one ranking period will occur in the last quarter of the previous fiscal year or the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

(2) In evaluating CSP applications for new enrollment or for renewal, NRCS will rank applications based on the following factors:

(i) The natural resource conservation and environmental benefits that result from the conservation treatment on all State identified priority resource concerns at the time of submission of the application;

(ii) The degree to which the proposed conservation activities increase natural resource conservation and environmental benefits; and

(iii) Other consistent criteria, as determined by NRCS, including criteria the Chief determines are necessary to ensure that national, State, and local priority resource concerns are effectively addressed.

(3) In the event that two or more applications receive the same ranking under paragraph (c)(2) of this section, NRCS shall rank those contracts based on the extent to which the actual and anticipated conservation benefits from each contract are provided at the lowest cost relative to other similarly beneficial contract offers.

(4) NRCS may not assign a higher priority to any application because the applicant is willing to accept a lower payment than the applicant would otherwise be eligible to receive.

(d) Ranking pools. States will establish ranking pools in accordance with § 1470.2(d)(1).

(1) Nonindustrial private forest land (NIPF) applications will compete in separate ranking pools. An applicant with both NIPF and other eligible land may submit one application for NIPF and one application for all other eligible land.

(2) Within each State or established ranking pool, NRCS will address conservation access for certain farmers or ranchers, including -

(i) Socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers;

(ii) Beginning farmers or ranchers;

(iii) Producers who are veteran farmers or ranchers; and

(iv) Organic producers or producers who are transitioning to organic.

(e) Application preapproval. NRCS will make application preapproval determinations throughout the fiscal year based on eligibility and ranking score.

(f) Field verification. NRCS will conduct onsite field verification prior to entering into a conservation stewardship contract to substantiate the accuracy of the information provided by applicants during the application process and to verify applicability of planned conservation activities.