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Your Farm’s Conservation Plan: Is It Current? Or Is It a Relic from 1985?

Fri, Aug 16th, 2013
Posted in All Agriculture

From the Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Board of Supervisors

Travis Willford, Harmony

Brian Hazel, Lanesboro

Pam Mensink, Preston

Tim Gossman, Chatfield

Leonard Leutink Jr., Spring Valley

The 1985 Food Security Act (Farm Bill) required that every farm have a Conservation Plan for highly erodible land and wetlands in order to be eligible for federal Farm Bill programs. That requirement remains in place to this day. However, many farms have not had their plans updated since 1985 even though farming practices have changed dramatically since then. Soil loss may be greater than what was initially calculated based on the farming practices and crop rotations used in 1985. If current farming practices are different from those in the plan that is on file, the farm could be considered out of compliance, and the landowner and operator risk being ineligible for federal farm program payments.

Every year, USDA generates a random list of about 10 percent of the farms in the county to be spot checked for compliance with their conservation plan. If an erosion problem exists, it must be fixed to be brought back into compliance. A common belief is that any and all erosion problems on any farm are policed, but that is not true. If a farm is not part of the 10 percent compliance spot check, the only other way an erosion problem can be addressed is through the complaint process. If the SWCD receives a complaint, a letter is sent to the landowner to offer assistance to fix the erosion problem.

Complaints can also be made anonymously at the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office or Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office. The complaint must be investigated and, if it is legitimate, the erosion must be controlled or else farm program payments may be terminated. Fillmore County also has a Soil Erosion Control Ordinance, which includes a complaint process that begins at the Fillmore County Zoning office.

Compliance with federal farm program requirements has economic advantages, but reducing soil erosion has even greater long-term economic benefits. An updated conservation plan ensures that soil erosion does not exceed the rate at which the soil can maintain its productivity. Tolerable soil loss, or “T”, is different for different soil types. “T” for the most common soil types in Fillmore County is five tons per acre per year. The calculations for “T” are based on sheet and rill erosion, not gully erosion. If gullies are present, soil loss is always greater than “T”, and soil productivity is always negatively impacted.

Think about the changes in farming since 1985. Less hay, small grains and pasture, especially on steeper ground, and conversion to corn and soybeans makes those acres more vulnerable to erosion. Reduced tillage and no till may offset some erosion under “normal” rainfall. But “normal” rains aren’t the norm anymore. Localized, torrential rains happen every year somewhere in our region. Even reduced tillage fields and fields that are labeled “non-highly erodible” develop gullies if there are no waterways, buffers or contoured crop rows to slow the water. An updated conservation plan can help a farmer identify soil conservation needs and ensure that the soil is better protected even during weather extremes. An added bonus to implementing soil conservation practices is the boost to soil health and the ability to buffer the extremes of flood and drought. Management practices, such as no till and cover crops, combined with contour strips, buffers, and grassed waterways, optimize soil productivity and improve water infiltration, water holding capacity, nutrient balance and resistance to drought and flood. Your farm is more likely to remain productive well into the future even if the weather is unpredictable.

Updating your conservation plan is easy and free. Contact the SWCD office at 507-765-3878 ext. 3 or email to get more information.

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