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5 ways conservation can actually pay

Land Values: With the right approach, increasing your conservation efforts can also be profitable and lucrative.

When you think about conservation and what it means to your farmland, what words come to mind? Maybe stewardship, sustainability or preservation? These are good words, but they’re hard to quantify. 

Words that are quantifiable, such as profitable, economical or lucrative, don’t come to mind quite as quickly, relative to conservation. So, while we want to promote stewardship and sustainability, conservation practices are difficult to implement if those practices are not economical, especially in today’s financial environment.

In a world where everyone’s putting a higher priority on stewardship, sustainability and preservation within agriculture, how can we become better conservationists amid already-thin economic bottom lines? Here are five ideas to consider that may change your conservation mindset as you plan for your farm’s 2020 crop year and beyond:

1. Conservation practices save money. More efficient fertilizer use reduces fertilizer costs, and reduces nutrient loss into the environment. Similarly, less tillage decreases fuel and labor expenses while improving soil health.

2. Conservation practices help increase profits on low-producing acres. Consider taking a rough, poorly drained or unproductive parcel out of production and enrolling it in the Conservation Reserve Program or pollinator habitat through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This approach can increase conservation while nearly eliminating input costs on those acres, and will continue to bring in a similar, if not more lucrative, return.

3. Conservation practices help manage risk while improving value. No-till or reduced-till farming practices, as well as cover crop use, can create healthier soils with more effective water retention and absorption. That can mean less erosion, which saves the farm’s most valuable asset: its soils. Ultimately, this approach is a long-term investment in the land.

4. Conservation practices improve drainage. Improving or adding a new waterway, surface drain or terrace can help alleviate significant stress caused by poor drainage across many farmland acres. NRCS offers multiple programs to help offset the expense of these conservation practices. Partnering with NRCS on a conservation project can be one of the most cost-effective ways to improve a farm’s drainage and production capabilities — and overall value — while also reducing runoff and erosion.

5. Conservation practices set your operation apart. Nearly 50% of all U.S. farmland is controlled by absentee landowners. When you adopt conservation practices that reduce erosion and improve soil health — thereby making it more productive — land increases in value, which greatly benefits the landowner. Publicizing the conservation practices you use is a great way to gain new business with like-minded landowners, farm managers or other business partners.

Prioritizing conservation on your farm is about more than sustainability and stewardship. With the right approach, increasing your conservations efforts can also be profitable and lucrative.

Zelhart is a farm manager with Busey Ag Services, Decatur, Ill., and a member of the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. Email questions to

TAGS: Conservation
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