NRCS Planner Designation

USDA NRCS Planner Level Certifications

NRCS Planner Level Certifications and Requirements

Questions about the NRCS Conservation Planner requirements?  Email Jan Thomas at to get your questions answered.

The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (known as "USDA NRCS," "NRCS," or "the agency" as referenced hereafter) provides planner designations/certifications relative to the discipline of Conservation Planning as noted in the agency's General Manual Title 180, Part 409 Conservation Planning Policy. These planner certifications are independent of the CTD Specialty Planner Certification process, but importantly form the core competencies and foundations necessary for pursuit of any of the CTD Specialty Planner Certifications. It is encouraged that prior to submitting a CTD Specialty Planner Certification that you complete at minimum a USDA NRCS Level I Planner certification.

NRCS Conservation Planner Designations are at four levels, and each has it own curriculum of required training and experience. Level I forms the foundation for pursuit of any additional NRCS Planner Levels. Trainings include AgLearn online courses, on-demand webinars offered through the Conservation of Natural Resource Webinar Portal, in-person trainings provided by NRCS on a rotating schedule that require space be dedicated for you to attend, and on-the-job training ("OJT") and specific skills related to the staff member's job roles and responsibilities. 

As a brief summary, these four certification levels are:

What Training/ Courses Are Required?

Learn about the training/course requirements of each of the Level I, III, and IV NRCS Planner levels by accessing the 2021 NRCS Conservation Planner Designations Factsheet here. Visit the General Manual Title 180, Part 409 Conservation Planning Policy to learn more about all of these levels as well.

"How Do I Navigate the NRCS Planner Certification Process?"

Presented by CTD on: Thursday, September 24, 2020 (Copy of PowerPoint Slides)

There are benefits to achieving an NRCS Planner Designation status, but the process can be confusing. This webinar goes over the advantages of achieving an NRCS Planner Designation status, how to load your training curriculum in AgLearn so that it tracks your progress,  where to find and use the certification Training Plan, and more.  

Note that the designations in this presentation are outdated and say "Apprentice," "Certified," "Master," and "Technical Specialist" - the old nomenclature for designations within NRCS. Keep in mind Apprentice=NRCS Level I, Certified=NRCS Level III, Master=NRCS Level IV, and Technical Specialist=NRCS Level II.    Questions?  Contact Jan at

CTD Certification is a different process that builds on the core competencies developed with the NRCS Planner Certification Process.

Professional Roles and Responsibilities of Each NRCS Planner Level

NRCS Level I Planner (formerly known as Apprentice Conservation Planner)

NRCS Level III Planner (formerly known as Certified Conservation Planner)

NRCS Level IV Planner (formerly known as Master Conservation Planner)

NRCS Level II Planner (formerly known as Technical Specialist Planner, such as for CNMPs)

Additional Resources 

NRCS Training Plan/PDP Upload to AgLearn

Learn how to upload your NRCS Training Plan, otherwise known as a "PDP" for partners like conservation districts and "IDP" for NRCS employees, into AgLearn.

Load, Track, and Print PDP in AgLearn

Did you know that you can self certify all of the webinars and on the job training (OJT) requirements right in AgLearn and keep track of your progress towards NRCS certification? 

You can now load the entire planner designation curriculum (i.e, Level I, Level III) in AgLearn, referred to as a Partner Development Plan (PDP), to help you keep track of your progress.

Please note: District staff are not required to take Conservation Planning Business Tool Training (part of NRCS Level I designation) UNLESS you have direct access to an NRCS computer AND are entering program information directly into the NRCS system*.

*"Conservation planning business tool training (e.g., Conservation Desktop (State or national course)). Partner or private sector conservation planner (including TSPs) candidates will not be required to complete Conservation Planning Business Tools training if they do not have access to the appropriate NRCS conservation planning application." (409-9, NPPH 180-409-GM, 1st Ed., Amend. 44, Sep. 2019) 

NRCS Planner Designation Tracking Template Click Here to Download an Offline Training Plan Template of the course requirements for each NRCS Planner designation. Note that this should not replace the loading of a PDP within AgLearn in order to obtain NRCS certification. Note this is an older template and it may be better to use the current Training Plan Template linked here.

NRCS Requirements for Maintaining Planner Designation

NRCS requires 40 hours of continuing education every 3 years to maintain your planner designation status. See this NRCS Maintaining Planner Role document for more detail. Work with your supervisor and the CD Training Coordinator to ensure completion of these 40 hours of Continuing Education prior to your certification's expiration date in order to avoid having to retake previous planner level courses.

Definitions for Common NRCS Training "Types" within your Training Plan/PDP

AgLearn/Online Courses - Must be taken within AgLearn, online, and will be verified and marked complete within AgLearn as you complete all of the requirements for each.

State-Led or National - These courses are offered on a rotating schedule and as indicated by the NRCS State Office Training staff in coordination with the CD Training Coordinator. If you have a particular in-person state-led training you need to complete your NRCS Planner Designation, be sure to indicate that course on your yearly update to your Training Needs Inventory survey. 

S&T Webinars (Conservation Webinar Portal) – These webinars can be accessed through AgLearn and self-certified for completion within AgLearn.  If you take the course through the Conservation Webinar Portal, be sure to obtain a certificate of completion then you can go into AgLearn and self-confirm completion. 

Proficiency Exams - The NRCS has released Proficiency Exams for some of the NRCS Planner Designation course requirements for the Level III / Certified level. Successfully passing these Proficiency Exams in AgLearn will allow an individual to “test out” of certain in-person NRCS courses.

OJT - On the job training. Some of this can be self-certified or in conjunction with coordination by a mentor and the CD Training Coordinator.

Bulletin for Updates to NRCS Planner Designation Process and Naming Structure (2021)

In 2021, NRCS updated the naming and other requirements for its planner designations. Learn more by reading this bulletin here.