NRCS Conservation Planning Technology - Brief Overview
All NRCS technical assistance is delivered through the development of conservation plans. These plans are designed to not only address the resource needs of the land, but also incorporate the short and long term objectives of the client. NRCS follows a 9-step process to develop a conservation plan; this process is described in detail in the USDA-NRCS National Planning Procedures Handbook (NPPH), and may be found at:
The primary reference document guiding the delivery of NRCS technical assistance is the Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG). This document is available at:
An NRCS conservation plan is essentially a set of conservation practices that are designed to work in an integrated manner to accomplish an identified level of resource treatment. NRCS conservation plans must also be in compliance with all federal, state, and local laws. While the development of a conservation plan considers a wide range of information, all NRCS planning is based in part on the capabilities and limitations of the soils. NRCS soils information is available in Section II of the FOTG. Other references and maps which are used in the planning process are available in Section I of the FOTG.
To determine which practices are required to address specific resource concerns, NRCS uses Quality Criteria, found in Section III of the FOTG. These Criteria are used to assess the existing condition of the natural resources on a site, and determine whether additional practices are needed. Section III of the FOTG also contains Resource Management System information for major land uses.
Including a practice in a Conservation Plan is the documentation that the client has agreed to implement the practice. The next step is designing the planned practices for the site. To design a practice, NRCS uses Practice Standards.
NRCS has a Practice Standard for each conservation practice. Section IV of the FOTG contains these standards. Each NRCS standards contains the following: (1) a practice Definition, (2) the applicable Purposes of the practice, (3) Conditions Where the Practice Applies, (4) Criteria, which define how the practice must be designed or applied in order to meet the intended purpose, (5) Considerations, which provide information on job complexity and considerations that the designer should consider when planning this practice, (6) Plans and Specifications, which include the specific documentation that must be addressed by the practice design and provided to the client, and (7) Operation and Maintenance, which defines what information must be provided to the client so they can manage and maintain the practice properly so it will function for its intended life span. Although participation in USDA-NRCS programs are voluntary, NRCS standards are frequently referenced by state and other federal laws. All technical assistance provided by NRCS, partners working under operational agreements with NRCS, or those providing assistance on USDA-NRCS’s behalf must meet NRCS standards. Similarly, all technical assistance provided by Technical Service Providers in support of Farm Bill programs must meet NRCS standards.
Section V of the FOTG contains information on the environmental effects of installing conservation systems. Conservation Practice Physical Effects (CPPE), that define how specific practices either positively or negatively affect the resource concerns identified. Using CPPE, appropriate practices can be identified and included in the plan to address site specific problems.