Conservation planning in action on a farm. Photo Karl Hakanson.
Conservation planning involves assessing a farm's natural resource challenges and opportunities and identifying appropriate conservation practices. It is a valuable but often overlooked process that can help farmers streamline conservation efforts and integrate environmental management with agricultural production goals.
Farm conservation plans are highly customized. They address not only where, when and how to implement practices, but also what is needed to continue or maintain practices over time - including renovation or enhancement of existing practices. This information makes it easier for farmers to apply for funding to implement practices.
In the broadest sense, farm conservation planning includes many kinds of documents - from whole-farm assessments of soil, water, habitat and other natural resources to single-practice engineering/design specifications and seeding plans. As a stand-alone activity, however, conservation planning usually means a comprehensive resource assessment and implementation plan. For livestock operations, this includes specialized environmental quality assurance (EQA) assessments and comprehensive nutrient management plans. (A comprehensive nutrient management plan is a conservation system unique to an animal feeding operation.)
Planning documents are more than paperwork - the goal is to take action and get things done on the land. Conservation plans are flexible, working blueprints. They can be adapted or revised to meet evolving land management goals or address the changing needs of a farm undergoing a transition such as intergenerational transfer or switching to a different type of production.
Guidance from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service
See contacts for specific programs that fund this practice in the side-by-side payment comparison or contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District