Conservation planning helps farmers prep for spring (Keeping the Farm)
(Editor’s note: Genevieve Lister is a state public affairs officer with NRCS-Maryland.)
With milder weather returning, many farmers are busy checking equipment, preparing soil, and finishing up paperwork to plan for the seasons ahead.
If you have a current conservation plan, you likely already know where you are in your farm’s conservation journey, where you would like to be, and how to best get there.
A conservation plan is a document that outlines the decisions you have made to protect and enhance the natural resources on the land you own and operate.
The plan identifies your farm’s key natural resources and areas for improvement and sets goals and timelines for making any improvements.
No two farms and no two fields are identical; therefore, no two farm plans are the same.
Developing a conservation plan is voluntary and relies on you making the decisions and implementing the plan.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s conservation planners provide technical assistance at no cost to help develop and implement your plan.
The NRCS uses a nine-step planning process whenever it begins a project.
The purpose of the steps is to develop and implement plans that protect, conserve, and enhance natural resources within a social and economic perspective.
• Step 1: Identify Problems and Opportunities: Initial opportunities and problems are first identified by you, the farmer.
Often farmers start by reviewing their farm map with a conservation planner and walking them through each field, discussing any problems, opportunities, shared concerns, or a perceived threat.
• Step 2: Determining Objectives: During this step, farmers identify their objectives.
A conservation planner guides the process so that it includes both the farmers needs and values and the resource uses and ecological protection.
This might include how the area is to be used, what is the intended use of the property over the long term, what are the family considerations, and other factors that might influence the choice of conservation practices to be applied.
• Step 3: Inventory Resources: In this step, natural resource, economic and social information for the planning area is collected to further define the problems and opportunities.
This includes the soils, plants, animals, physical structures, available labor, equipment, and anything else that might be needed to solve the conservation problems.
• Step 4: Analyze Resource Data: The conservation planner studies the resource data and clearly defines existing conditions for the natural resources, including limitations and potential for the desired use.
This step is crucial to developing plans that will work for the farmer and their land.
• Step 5: Formulate Alternatives: Alternatives are formulated that achieve the farmer’s objectives, solve identified concerns, and take advantage of opportunities to improve or protect resource conditions.
• Step 6: Evaluate Alternatives: Each alternative is evaluated to determine its effectiveness in addressing the farmers problems, opportunities and objectives.
Most farmers own and/or operate two or more types of land — and every decision has bearing on the bigger landscape, so both on-site and off-site impacts are considered.
• Step 7: Make Decisions: At this point the farmer chooses which project or plan will work best for their situation.
The planner prepares the documentation that includes the practices to be implemented and the timeline.
• Step 8: Implement the Plan: The farmer implements the selected alternatives.
The planner provides the farmer with detailed practice implementation information.
• Step 9: Evaluate the Plan: The planner evaluates the effectiveness of the plan in solving the resource concerns and works with the customer to adjust as needed.
A conservation plan is the farmers’ plan and can be adjusted as needs change.
If decision-makers are involved and the plan is executed, the results should be improvements in the environment and farm economics.
As you prepare your farm for spring, consider working with NRCS to develop a conservation plan.
While USDA offices are currently closed to visitors because of the pandemic, Service Center staff continue to work with agricultural producers via phone, e-mail, and other digital tools.
To conduct business, please contact a local USDA Service Center or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.