Producers in 16 counties in southern Iowa may be eligible for soil conservation compliance variances from USDA this spring to allow for limited tillage in corn- stalks and soybean stubble. The variance will be offered in these counties: Decatur, Lucas, Ringgold, Wayne, Appanoose, Davis, Van Buren, Lee, De Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Wapello, Monroe, Mahaska, Keokuk and Washington.
This pertains to fields that have a conservation compliance plan which must be followed in order for the farmer to stay eligible to participate in USDA farm programs. Fields with highly erodible land are designated as HEL fields and they have an official conservation compliance plan that farmers are required to follow in order to remain eligible for USDA farm program benefits. Some of those compliance plans require the use of no-till for crop production.
"Because of some of the rainfall events of 2010, some no-tilled fields may have developed some small rills across the slope," says John Myers, state resource conservationist for USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service in Iowa. "This variance allows farmers the opportunity to smooth out those areas without penalty. Producers are encouraged to leave the maximum amount of crop residue possible on the soil surface, if they do perform any spot tillage."
If limited tillage is needed you must request a variance from NRCS
If limited tillage is needed to facilitate planting in these areas that are subject to excessive soil erosion, farmers should request a variance from their local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office before doing any tillage. After receiving a request, NRCS staff may complete a field review.
"It is important to note this variance is not blanket coverage allowing producers to do tillage," says Myers. "It applies where the producer has used no-till planting methods as specified in their conservation compliance plan and on areas where permanent practices such as terraces or other structures to control ephemeral gully erosion would normally not be needed."
NRCS is also offering a variance to allow producers to deviate from the crop residue requirements listed for mulch tillage where additional tillage is needed for replanting purposes or to level the areas where rill erosion or ephemeral gully erosion has occurred. This only applies were mulch tillage is specified in the conservation compliance plan.
What about cases where you tried to establish forage, but it failed?
If a producer's compliance plan called for establishing perennial forages, the variance will allow a "deviation from the planned rotation" when perennial forages have failed to get established. This will allow producers to plant a row crop in 2011, and prepare for the establishment of the forage in 2012.
Conservation compliance variances will not be granted on tracts were permanent practices, like grassed waterways, field borders, critical area seeding and water and sediment control basins, needed to control ephemeral gully erosion, were not in place. NRCS will not grant a variance for fields that were tilled prior to the heavy rains, and the conservation compliance plan specifies a no-till planting system.
If you have questions on your conservation plans or would like to do a review, contact your local field office staff to schedule an appointment. "This is a good time to complete conservation plan follow-up visits to review your plan and make any revisions that are needed," says Myers.