Cropland study confirms targeted conservation practices work on farms in Upper Mississippi River Basin

By Agri-Pulse Staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, June 16 – 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 Wednesday 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 the following:

  • 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.

This study is part of a larger effort – the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) – to assess the effects of conservation practices on the nation's cropland, grazing lands, wetlands, wildlife and watersheds. CEAP is a multi-agency, multi-resource effort led by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Additional regional cropland studies on the effects of conservation practices will be forthcoming over the next several months.

The complete UMRB cropland study report can be found at

Key partners in this study were USDA's Agricultural Research Service and Texas AgriLife Research, part of the Texas A&M University system.

The UMRB covers about 190,000 square miles – 121.5 million acres-between north-central Minnesota and the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The basin includes large portions of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and small portions of Indiana, Michigan and South Dakota. Nearly half the basin is planted in corn and soybeans.

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