Why conservation matters to farmers
June 30, 2020

Why conservation matters to farmers

The best farmers are conservationists. Think about it: To succeed in farming requires a commitment to protecting assets and investments. As far as farm operations are concerned, there is no asset more important than land.

Proper conservation practices protect land. They keep the land producing reliably year after year and keep farmland profitable. Farmers who want to see profits each year would do well to maintain a focus on land sustainability.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability has been a familiar term in the agriculture industry for some time now. The broader idea behind sustainability is focused on achieving a sustainable planet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Sustainability is achieved when the needs of the global population are met while also balancing the need to preserve resources for future generations.

In agriculture, achieving sustainability has a fairly detailed definition, per the USDA. Sustainable agriculture would satisfy the world’s human food and fiber needs are met, improve environmental quality and natural resources, sustain economic viability of farm operations and improve the quality of life for farmers and society.

Conservation leads to sustainability

If sustainability is the goal, then conservation practices are the means.

Many farmers are already practicing conservation methods. In Iowa, farmers employ recommended practices that use soil and water resources as wisely as possible and ensure the land’s ability to maintain production in the long-term.

There are a variety of conservation methods in use today. Which ones are used on any particular farm depends on land characteristics. While some practices are used every year, others are meant to provide benefits for longer periods of time.

Both annual and long-term practices are needed to achieve the desired conservation results and keep land healthy and productive.

Annual conservation practices

Farmers use several annual conservation practices, meaning they are employed each year. Let’s go over a few of them.

Cover crops

Cover crops are among the most common forms of conservation practices. According to the Iowa Corn Growers Association, cover crops are one of the best practices for improving water quality on farmland. This is achieved by better retention of nutrients that, if not managed through planting cover crops, could leave the field’s soil due to erosion, runoff or leaching.

Cover crops don’t just improve soil quality through nutrient retention, they also reduce erosion, help soil not become too compact, increase organic matter and fight off weeds.

Extended crop rotation

Crop rotation is when a farmer plants different crops during a given cycle. Crops in the rotation can include corn, soybeans, grasses, legumes and small grains.

This rotation improves soil health and lowers how much pressures crops face from both insects and diseases. Soil is also covered throughout more months of the year, which helps with water quality and soil health.

No-till or strip till

No-till farming is another example of an annual practice that can reduce soil erosion and promote organic matter in the ground.

Strip-till is simply a different form of no-till farming. With strip-till, tillage is kept to a narrow area where the next year’s crop will be planted. This reduces how much soil is disturbed and achieves the same results as no-till, just in a smaller area.

Long-term practices

These are a few of the practices farmers may employ that don’t need to be done each year.

Saturated buffers and stream buffers

A saturated buffer is a structure that controls water levels. It’s installed by the tile line outlet but still within or immediately adjective to a stream buffer that’s already in place, according to the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

The saturated buffer sends some of the water into a tile line next to the stream and within the buffer. If there’s excess nitrate in the tile flow, it’s converted to nitrogen gas in the soil of the stream buffer.

Now, stream buffers are grasses or other native vegetation along streams that trap sediment from field surface runoff. As a result, less phosphorus gets into the waterway, filters nitrogen, keeps stream banks more intact and also provides habitat for wildlife.


Some farmers also construct wetlands. These man-made versions of wetlands are shallow areas of water that filter nutrients, control flooding, create habitat for wildlife and offer space for recreational activities.

Wetlands do wonders for improving water quality, too.


Terraces are easily spotted in farm fields. They are embankments or ridges that are put in place to slow water runoff.

Terraces are helpful in decreasing how much soil is lost to erosion. They also decrease phosphorus loss.

To read more about common conservation practices, visit the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

Why conservation matters to farmers

If a farmer wants their operation to be as successful as possible, then they will employ conservation best practices. But if a farmer wants to be able to ensure future generations can also farm – let alone have the same capacity to feed the world’s ever-increasing population – then conservation is absolutely imperative.

Good conservation practices are also what’s best for the environment. These practices help restore wildlife habitats, protect wetlands and watersheds.

Moreover, there are other very real economic benefits to conservation. Conservation in agriculture saves money by reducing how much labor is needed, how much fuel is consumed, how long machinery must operate and how often maintenance must be performed on equipment.

Without conservation in agriculture, farmers would encounter more and more struggles in keeping their land productive. Conservation offers a path toward balancing the need to meet increasing demand for food, while also not limiting the land’s production potential down the road.

Cotton Grave can help your farm succeed

Whether you are an active farmer or you lease your farmland to a tenant, Cotton Grave Farm Management can provide expertise and guidance on a wide range of issues that help farmers succeed, including conservation.

Our firm has worked in farm management since 1960 and uses even more years of combined experience to help you reach your goals.

Let’s get to work on your goals. Request a complimentary consultation today.

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