Farm Progress

Why you need a conservation plan on your farm

A conservation plan is the first step to obtaining cost-share and assistance.

Tom Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

December 6, 2016

3 Min Read

For decades farmers have worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, even when it was still the Soil Conservation Service, to develop conservation plans. This has always been the first step to obtaining cost-share assistance for various conservation practices.

The conservation cost-share programs have changed over the years, but the need for a plan has not. District conservationists Don Donovan, Clint Harrison, Brian Musser and Ruth Hackman note that conservation planning is a must if you want to move forward with cost-share programs. Those programs include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and many others.


EQIP allows you and your conservationist to look at all the resource needs of your farm. Then you can draw up a plan and space out practices so you can afford to implement them. There can be substantial cost to you in putting these practices in place, even with cost-share assistance.

This information was prepared by the Indiana Conservation Partnership, led by a team of NRCS personnel including Donovan, Harrison, Musser and Hackman. Other NRCS staff contributing information include Susannah Hinds, grazing specialist; Scot Haley, resource soil scientist; Kris Vance, public affairs specialist; Victor Shelton, state agronomist/grazing specialist; Tony Bailey, state conservation agronomist; and Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist.

Conservation planning

Many Indiana farmers are managing their farms using a soil health management system of no-till or strip-till, cover crops, adapted nutrient management, and buffers, Donovan says. These farmers are using this system for a variety of reasons, and are seeing tremendous benefits such as reduced erosion, reduced compaction, improved soil organic matter, improved nutrient use efficiency and, ultimately, higher profitability. The conservationists say farmers also see resiliency against weather extremes. 

In all cases, each farmer’s specific details of which cover crop species they use each year, their no-till/strip-till planter’s setup and their nutrient management details are specific to their individual fields based on the resource issues they're trying to address, and based on their soils, local climate and crop rotation, Donovan says.

This is the value of a conservation plan, he adds. Through the plan, a conservation professional works one on one with the farmer to identify the variety of resource concerns on that farm. Together, they evaluate various alternative practices and activities that will address these resource concerns.

Each farmer makes the final decision on which system of practices matches his or her operation best. Then, the conservation professional provides the details of each practice to make them successful.

Farm bill participation

Several of these farmers participated in farm bill programs to help them offset costs during their journey to better soil health. In Indiana, each farm bill program participant has a conservation plan that gets developed before the program contract is approved. 

If you’re interested in these practices and haven’t implemented them yet, contact your local NRCS office and develop a conservation plan, Donovan says. NRCS can work with you to find the right program that will work best for your farm.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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