Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

A Good Conservation Plan

A good conservation plan, a little ingenuity, hard work, and a farm bill program can help push great ideas into action. 

By Lena Bohm, District Conservationist, Mohall Field Office


crops

Often it is said that conservation can pay in small long-term dividends that often go unnoticed. That is, until you bring up the Conservation Stewardship Program in Renville County, where many farmers and ranchers say it saved the farm.  Renville may be unique, but many of our farmers look at themselves just like everyone else.  They are small family farms trying to be better stewards of the land they farm so they can leave something for their future generations.  Farmers adapt, plan, update technology, revisit their history, and carry on long traditions while striving to make it profitable today.  The ability to adapt has been an integral part of family farms, especially with the ever fickle Mother Nature stressing our resources with excess rainfall to grueling droughts.

Case in point, Dan and Doug Lakefield are two brothers who have adapted to the farming spirit they were born into, while providing for their individual families.  Dan worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop a conservation plan several years ago to address resource concerns of water quality, plant productivity, soil erosion, and soil organic matter on his farmstead, pastures, and cropland. 

This plan he then implemented with the use of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) establishing cross fences, planting farmstead shelterbelts, installing livestock water tanks, decommissioning abandoned wells, and with a major overhaul to his cropping system.  This cropland overhaul included basic soil testing,  nutrient management, and a no-till/direct seed residue management system.

As we know with most farmers, they don’t stop with one or two innovations.  As Doug saw his brother implementing all of these conservation practices, he started asking if they could go further and plan a better conservation management system.  You see he was adopting everything he saw his brother implementing too, just without the cows.  During step 9 of the conservation planning process—evaluate the plan—the brothers saw areas they could still improve.  One of those improvements was to add variable rate technology to their nutrient and pest management on their cropland.  They looked into the tools and education they would need; however the price tag of technology stopped them in their tracks.  Then in 2010, Dan and Doug heard about the CSP and they applied and were accepted.  “We wanted to put variable rate on our operation, but it didn’t pencil out, with CSP it finally penciled out,” said Dan Lakefield.

This first CSP contract came to an end, and the brothers were given the opportunity to renew their CSP contract for another five years.  They continued improving their nutrient management, and also wanted to address their soil resources, so they implemented cover crops as part of their rotation to increase organic matter and to improve the diversity of their crops.  During a field visit this spring, Dan was asked what he would be doing today if he didn’t have the CSP program.  “Without the CSP program, we’d still be shot-gunning our fertilizer and soil testing just three or four fields a year on the whole farm.  Now we complete five tests on one quarter via zones.  Our fertilizer inputs haven’t decreased, but it gets applied where it’s needed.  And when others were getting eight or nine protein, we had 14 protein,” chuckled Dan.  Dan also explained that variable rate has paid for itself in their crop yields and quality, and knowing they aren’t throwing excess nutrients into the water system is just a fuzzy plus, validating that conservation does pay for itself.  He also pointed out that they were moving in this direction, it was part of their overall long-term plan, CSP just helped give it the push to get it implemented sooner in their careers.

Dan and Doug Lakefield are only two of 110 CSP success stories in Renville County.  Renville county has nearly a 40% participation rate in the CSP program.  Cover crops are a common tool getting used by CSP and  non-CSP contract holders alike each fall.  The local businesses and agronomy centers have also seen the dividends with more demand for varying cover crop mix requests, nutrient applications like poly-coated ureas, more soil testing needs, and an increased need for crop scouts and crop advisors.  When we look at how a good conservation plan can start a chain reaction, we see that it not only pays for the resource concern, but also for the farmer, the landowner, the local businesses, and the agricultural community.

black cattle