Do you own farmland that would benefit from improved soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat? On-farm conservation can sustain agricultural productivity while achieving a range of environmental benefits. Learn how to understand the natural resources on your land and take action to protect them.
Improve On-Farm Conservation
Understand Your Land
One of the first steps toward improving your land is to understand the importance of soil health and the ways to improve it. After that, take an inventory of your land and its resources and connect with a conservation specialist because together you’ll choose the best set of uses and management practices for your land.
Learn About Soil Health
Maintaining healthy soils can reduce a farmer’s production costs and improve profits while also helping the land sequester more carbon, increase water infiltration and improve wildlife and pollinator habitat. Learn about the importance of soil health and the variety of farm practices that can help improve the soil. A few key principles of soil health include:
- Use diverse species to increase diversity in the soil.
- Manage soils more by disturbing them less.
- Keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil.
- Keep the soil covered as much as possible.
- Your Land, Your Soil, Your Investment, Your Family
- Principles for High Functioning Soils
- Applying Soil Health Management Systems to Reduce Climate and Weather Risks in the Northwest
- Farmer Case Studies in Soil Health
Assess Your Land
Taking stock of your land’s agricultural use and farm infrastructure is an important step in developing meaningful conservation goals. Use a land inventory checklist to assess what is happening on your farm now and document your positive assets and any issue concerns.Farm Inventory Checklist
More Tools to Assess Your Land
These online tools offer additional ways to understand your land’s resources.
Think About Goals
Once you have a better understanding of your land’s resources and concerns, then write down your vision and goals. Use the Goal Setting Worksheet below to help you collect your thoughts and begin to formulate a plan for your land. The worksheet also serves as a useful tool to start the conversation about conservation with your family, farmer tenants, and conservation agency staff.Goal Setting Worksheet
Develop Your Plan
A conservation plan is a tool designed to help farmers and ranchers manage the natural resources on their farm. Reach out to a conservation specialist who will meet with you to discuss your goals for your land and help you create a plan to address natural resource conditions. The options you choose, which can range from practices to support pollinator and wildlife habitats to crop rotations and water control structures, and the time-line for their implementation become the plan.
- Overview of Conservation Planning
- Conservation Planning Guide, National Conservation Planning Partnership
- Sample Cropland Conservation Plan and Soils Map
- Sample Conservation Plan
Find a Conservation Specialist
Staff at federal or state conservation agencies can help you create and implement your conservation plan.
USDA Farm Service Agency
A good place to start is your local Farm Service Agency office. To enroll your land in any federal conservation program, you first need to find out if your land has a “farm number”, or if not get a farm number through the Farm Service Agency. Visit the Farm Service Agency Directory to find an office near you.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
NRCS conservationists offer direct, personal assistance including help developing and implementing conservation plans. Find a USDA Service Center near you.
Conservation District staff can give you maps and help you evaluate soils and develop conservation plans. Visit the Conservation District Directory to find an office near you.
The Cooperative Extension System can test soil samples and assist with writing an agricultural lease, and they are knowledgeable about local agriculture. Find a Cooperative Extension office near you.
Implement Your Plan
A state or federal conservation program can provide financial and technical assistance to help bring your conservation plan into practice. Federal programs are typically administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, while state programs may be administered by state departments of natural resources or state departments of agriculture through soil and water conservation districts.
Conservation Reserve Programs
Information about USDA's Conservation Reserve Program and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
Soil Health Institute
State agencies and universities that offer resources or financial incentives to improve soil health.