The goal of agricultural conservation planning is to identify and address natural resource concerns on agricultural land. These concerns include gully erosion, excess nutrients, and sediment runoff. Addressing resource concerns around your property benefits your soil’s health and productivity, as well as the water quality of local streams, creeks, and rivers.
Types of Agricultural Conservation Plans
What are the basic principles for conservation planning?
An Ag E&S plan determines the potential for erosion on your fields based on your farming practices. This plan demonstrates that your soils can tolerate the amount of soil disturbance caused by farming or grazing. It also details how you’re addressing concentrated flow (gully) erosion with BMPs.
Developing an Ag E&S plan involves completing soil loss calculations which account for sheet & rill erosion. The RUSLE 2 soil erosion model is an equation that factors in the soil type, topography (steepness and length of slope), climate and land use management practices of a field to predict the soil’s erosion loss in tons per acre. It then compares this rate of erosion to the soil type’s natural tolerance “T” value. If current or proposed farming activities cause erosion at a rate higher than the soil’s “T” value, it’s necessary to develop a less-intensive management plan for that field. If the erosion rate is lower than the “T” value, the management is deemed acceptable.
Some soils are more erosive than others, and the steepness of a field affects its predisposition to erosion as well. Certain agricultural activities carry a higher risk for soil erosion than others: tillage, a rotation heavy on annual crops, and the removal of crop residue will all increase the risk of soil erosion on a field. Conversely, fields managed with reduced or no tillage, cover crops, heavy crop residues, and a rotation that intersperses perennial crops will have lower susceptibility to erosion.
The topography of the land determines where there is concentrated flow of water. It is likely that gullies will develop in these areas. The higher volume and faster flow of water in these areas will transport sediment downstream. A conservation plan needs to address these areas with Best Management Practices (BMPs). Commonly used BMPs include grassed waterways and diversions.
You should update your Ag E&S plan if your farm or fields have:
If an operation has made any of the above changes since the last time a plan was written for their farm, they should update their plan. If they are considering making any of the above changes, they should verify that the field(s) can tolerate that change.
An Ag E&S Plan is a written site specific record of the farm operator and/or landowner’s decisions as to how they presently or will reduce erosion from cropland and animal heavy use areas (AHUA). An Ag E&S Plan is the minimum level of plan required for agricultural operations in Pennsylvania. The Ag E&S plan should be available at the farm at all times to guide the persons responsible for overall farm operations and if requested during an inspection. While very similar to Conservation Plans, they are not as complex as Conservation Plans which are required for participating in federal programs.
Ag E&S Plans can be written by the operator or a professional.
What is a Conservation Plan?
A Conservation Plan is a record of the farm operator and/or landowner’s decisions as to how all natural resource concerns should be addressed. In some cases, it may also include a strategy to improve air quality, animal health, energy efficiency, wildlife habitat, or control invasive plant species. In addition to addressing resource concerns, it also considers potential cultural resources on the farm and assesses the impacts of farm operations on the environment.
A Conservation Plan that has been written by USDA-NRCS will meet most of the requirements of the Ag E&S Plan. However, older NRCS plans may not address the Near Stream Areas or AHUA criteria. A Landowner can request NRCS to write or update a Conservation Plan to meet the Ag E&S (or 102) requirements. Contact the NRCS office to make this request.
Additionally, a current Conservation Plan is required to participate in many federally funded programs such as Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). The Conservation Plan should be available at the farm at all times to guide the persons responsible for overall farm operations. Conservation Plans are written by trained professionals such as District staff, NRCS staff, or private consultants.
Conservation plans must be written by a professional.
Construction on Farms and Permitting
Construction activities on farms require a written Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan when disturbing more than 5,000 square feet, as with any other type of construction (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.). NPDES Permits are required for planned disturbances of over 1 acre when building structures such as barns, manure storages, houses, silos, bunk silos, etc. Permits are to be issued prior to commencement of earthmoving. Normal plowing and tilling and the installation of BMP’s such as waterways, barnyard improvements and animal walkways may not need an NPDES Permit or construction E&S plan as long as those activities are included and addressed in the farms Ag E&S Plan. As with any construction, activities in or around streams and wetlands may require additional approvals. Also, local municipalities may also have requirements.