Farmers

Earn and Build Value

In every business, good management includes planning for short- and long-term benefits.
This year’s investment in erosion control, nutrient management, and soil health
produces a crop, plus rich rewards down the line.

Do.Agricultural Best Practices


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Manage grazing.

Rotational or prescribed grazing uses a system of grassland management to improve soil health and reduce input costs and the need to store, process, move, or spread manure. Rotation pastures improve animal health and can increase forage production by up to 40% vs continuous grazing. Vigorous plant growth near streams in grazing paddocks helps stabilize stream banks and the channel itself. Well developed root systems stop runoff and retain more water, resulting in a near-zero soil loss farming system.

Perennialize marginal land.

Soil on steep slopes and other marginal land doesn’t hold water, needs more care, and produces lower yields. Perennial crops and native grasses hold soil and can produce income, too.

Aim for year-round cover.

A mixture of summer row crops, winter annual crops and perennial crops keeps fields covered, adds nutrients to soil, and reduces soil and nutrient loss.

Practice conservation tillage.

No-till, strip-till, and ridge-till methods improve soil quality and reduce soil erosion up to two-thirds.

Till on slope contour.

Slopes naturally increase the effects of erosion and are particularly sensitive to exposure. Where possible, plant row crops in strips in rotation with forages, small grains, or sod in area with any slope above 4%. Strips arranged systematically across a field improve soil retention, increase fertility, and reduce nutrient leaching.

Install and maintain field structures.

Prevent erosion with well-placed ponds, terraces, grassed waterways, perennial strips, grade stabilization structures, and buffer strips.

Rotate crops.

Consider not only corn/bean rotation, but a rotation including alternative crops for income, soil health, and to help control weeds, pests, and soil erosion.

Use precision nutrient application.

Precision application maximizes yields, improves economic return, and helps reduce runoff to protect water.

Sample soil every three to six years during the same season, according to recommendations for your region. Inform application decisions with soil fertility, plant tissue, stalk nitrate, manure, nematode, fertilizer or lime analysis tests, or grid- or zone-based sampling as applicable. Apply fertilizer at variable rates where needed most.

Install and maintain buffers.

Strips of perennials bordering a stream, slope, or low area are an essential last-ditch effort to trap sediment and nutrients from water before they leave the farm, and a back-up to solid in-field soil and nutrient runoff reduction practices. They can be used to grow perennial crops or to support livestock and wildlife.

If your land is tile drained, use strategies to reduce nitrate loads and erosion.

Alter existing agricultural ditches to become two-stage ditches that prevent erosion, scouring, and flooding. Two to three feet from the bottom of the ditch, widen banks to 10 feet on each side to create a mini floodplain that spreads out water out to decrease its speed. Shallower drains and wider spacing can also reduce nitrate loss.

Install water control structures to raise drainage outlets to various depths and to provide more operator control, reductions in annual nitrate load of 15-75%, and possibly improved yields. Water control structures can be used to saturate buffers at field’s edge, where vegetation takes up nitrates, nitrate/nitrogen is released into the atmosphere through denitrification, and flow to the stream is reduced.

Treat drainage water with a bioreactor. Drained water enters a large trench filled with woodchips or other carbon source, and microbes break down nitrate through denitrification or other biochemical process.

Control the volume and frequency of irrigation.

Irrigate only when and where needed. Measure or estimate how much water crops need at different stages of growth and how long it takes soil to absorb the right amount of water. Retrofit or replace center-pivot or other sprinkler systems with low-pressure sprinkler equipment.

A Case For Collaborative Planning

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Collaborators: Work Together

Landowners

own the asset.

Personal communication and clear rental agreements benefit people, soil, streams & fish.

Farmers

make choices daily.

Across the Basin, producers work for profitable operations that protect water quality.

Local Organizations

point the way.

Committed leaders gather neighbors and resources to act for the common good.

Advisors

provide technical assistance.

Experts and mentors are ready to help.