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Best Management Practices for Conservation

Arguably, two of the most used words in today’s society, and particularly in the agriculture sector, are “conservation” and “sustainability”. It is assumed that conservation of resources that are devoted to agriculture (e.g. soil and water) will increase the sustainability of production of food products needed by humans.

In 2019, the Conservation Learning Group held summits to build consensus on the best management recommendations for farmers and landowners to adopt for conservation and water quality practices. The resulting manual titled “Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual” is intended to be a one-stop source to help decision makers select and incorporate in-field and edge-of-field conservation practices best suited for their land and preferences. The manual provides a science-based outline to support a conservation planning process and adoption. A free pdf copy can be downloaded here.

The manual offers guidance on the following conservation practices.

Tillage Management. Management practices for no-tillage and strip-tillage systems are discussed in detail. A tillage management guide covers controlled traffic for minimizing soil compaction, using tillage or lack of tillage to manage crop residues, and fertilizer management and sampling practices in conservation tillage systems.

Cover Crops. A guide to cover crop species selection and how to manage planting and termination of the selected species is presented. Details about planting and fertilization of a cash crop after a cover crop are also presented. Sections titled “Cover Crop Management at a Glance” and “Cover Crop Management Guide” provide especially helpful summaries of the important aspects of the processes and decisions important in the cover crop process.

Rotations. Considerable attention is given to using/managing diverse rotations to complement a traditional cropping system of corn-soybean.

Edge-of-Field Conservation Practices. This section deals with practices that can be adopted to significantly improve the quality of water that leaves a cropped field. It is important to remember that no one practice works well at all sites–i.e., an edge-of-field practice should be adopted that will remedy the perceived problem or that will accomplish the intended purpose on the selected site.

Decision Tools for Conservation. These visual step-by-step guides are based on research and experience and are easy to understand. They can be used to predict outcomes from the adoption of conservation tools, and to support rational choices when choosing and implementing conservation practices on a particular site.

Final Notes. 1) On p. 5 of the Manual, a chart titled “Conservation Practices at a Glance” provides a summary of the numerous factors deemed important in addressing resource conservation. The contents that follow this page in the manual provide details about the components shown in the chart. 2) Remember, the selection and use of any accepted conservation practice should always be based on a defined goal and/or intended outcome.

Composed by Larry G. Heatherly, July 2020,