Conservation practices installed and applied by agricultural producers on cropland are reducing sediment, nutrient and pesticide losses from farm fields, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said yesterday as he announced the release of a comprehensive study on the effects of conservation practices on environmental quality in the Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB).
"This important new report confirms that farmers and ranchers are stepping up and implementing conservation practices that can and do have a significant impact on the health of America's soil and water," Vilsack said. "The information gathered for this study will make it possible to quantify the effectiveness of conservation practices for the first time and enable USDA to design and implement conservation programs that will not only better meet the needs of farmers and ranchers, but also help ensure that taxpayers' conservation dollars are used as effectively as possible."
Key findings from the study, "Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Upper Mississippi River Basin" include:
- Suites of practices work better than single practices.
- Targeting critical acres improves effectiveness significantly; practices have the greatest effect on the most vulnerable acres, such as highly erodible land and soils prone to leaching.
- Uses of soil erosion control practices are widespread in the basin. Most acres receive some sort of conservation treatment, resulting in a 69 percent reduction in sediment loss. However, about 15 percent of the cultivated cropland acres still have excessive sediment losses and require additional treatment.
- The most critical conservation concern in the region is the loss of nitrogen from farm fields through leaching, including nitrogen loss through tile drainage systems.
The study also revealed opportunities for improving the use of conservation practices on cropland to enhance environmental quality. For instance, the study found that consistent use of nutrient management (proper rate, form, timing and method of application) is generally lacking throughout the region.
Improved nutrient management would reduce the risk of nutrient movement from fields to rivers and streams. A suite of practices that includes both soil erosion and consistent nutrient management is required to simultaneously address soil erosion and nitrogen leaching loss.