USDA's Conservation Efforts Yield Soil Savings on Private Ag, Forest Land
Inventory results show significant reduction in soil erosion on cropland; Conservation Practices Make a Difference
Contact: Christy Morgan
Acting Public Affairs Specialist
Lexington, Kentucky, November 16, 2012 – Seventy-seven years since the creation of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a new documentary reminds the agency of its beginnings amid the nation’s worst man-made ecological disaster. “The Dust Bowl,” a documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns airing Nov. 18-19 on PBS, chronicles the era of drought and dust storms as well as the creation of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), which eventually became NRCS.
President Franklin Roosevelt created SCS in 1935 to help farmers and ranchers overcome the devastating effects of poor land management decisions and drought, especially in the Midwest and Southern Plains.
Since that time, NRCS’s conservation accomplishments show that voluntary conservation on private agricultural and forest lands has been effective. For instance, NRCS latest Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) show soil erosion on cropland declined by 43 percent during the past 25 years. By saving and conserving millions of tons of topsoil, producers are able to increase their yields while helping the land to become more resilient against drought and other natural resources.
“This nation’s conservation commitment has a remarkable record,” said Karen Woodrich, State Conservationist for NRCS in Kentucky. “Its investment in conservation has brought productive agricultural land back from the brink during the Dust Bowl days, restored the water quality of streams and helped speed the recovery of diverse wildlife species.”
NRI provides scientifically-based, statistically accurate estimates of natural resource status, conditions and trends on non-federal U.S. land. This inventory captures data on land cover, land use, soil erosion, prime farmland and other natural resource information on private, tribal and trust lands as well as land controlled by state and local governments.
Other key findings from NRCS’s natural resource study:
Total cropland erosion (sheet, rill and wind) declined by about 43 percent, from more than 3.06 billion tons in 1982 to about 1.72 billion tons in 2007. The total sheet and rill plus wind erosion in 1982 was enough to cover Delaware under about 14 inches of soil. Total erosion in 2007 would cover the state in only 8 inches of soil. The Southern Plains region had the biggest decline in wind erosion rates, from 9.9 to 6.2 tons per acre per year—a 37 percent decrease.The bulk of the soil erosion reductions occurred in the decades following the implementation of provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985, including conservation compliance and the Conservation Reserve Program.
Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s land is privately owned; as a result, stewardship by private landowners is critical in protecting the nation’s natural resources. Currently, NRCS has about 97 million acres of land enrolled in conservation programs as of July 2012. More than 182,000 landowners currently participate in these programs. Commonly used conservation practices voluntarily used by private landowners between 2002 – 2012 include fencing, residue and tillage management, irrigation systems, prescribed grazing, terraces, integrated pest management and water control structures.
In fiscal year 2012 alone, the NRCS in Kentucky assisted over 1,000 landowners through Farm Bill program funding. In Kentucky, NRCS provided technical assistance to over 4,300 landowners who voluntarily applied 26,890 conservation practices on over 350,000 acres of Kentucky farmland. NRCS also provided drought assistance to the counties in western Kentucky that experienced exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses. Assisting landowners with making responsible natural resource decisions will sustain America’s farmland and all of our futures.
To better capture the benefits of conservation practices, NRCS initiated the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) in 2003 to develop a scientific understanding and method for estimating the environmental effects of conservation practices on agricultural landscapes at national, regional and watershed scales. The first CEAP study assessed the effects of conservation practices on cultivated cropland in the Upper Mississippi Basin. Key highlights from these assessment show that the voluntary, incentives-based approach is achieving results and that targeting the most critical areas delivers the greatest benefits.
Learn more about SCS and NRCS history.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).
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USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.