Published since 1946
NRCS Releases Progress Report on Conservation Practices Over Last Decade
The Natural Resources Conservation Service released a report on March 10 that documents progress on implementation of voluntary conservation practices on cultivated croplands. The report, “Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland: A Comparison of CEAP I and CEAP II Survey Data and Modeling” was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). Overall, the study found that there have been significant gains in soil health and soil carbon storage and also identified areas where additional targeted nutrient management strategies are needed.
“This latest CEAP report shows that farmers have done an outstanding job over the years in using innovative conservation strategies that help mitigate climate change,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby, “But we have more work to do. Reports like this one help us better understand conservation approaches and make improvements to increase positive impacts. This report will help steer our conservation efforts well into the future to help us adapt to changing trends in production, climate and technology.”
Key findings include:
- Farmers increasingly adopted advanced technology, including enhanced-efficiency fertilizers and variable rate fertilization to improve efficiency, assist agricultural economies and benefit the environment.
- More efficient conservation tillage systems, particularly no-till, became the dominant form of tillage, improving soil health and reducing fuel use.
- Use of structural practices increased, largely in combination with conservation tillage as farmers increasingly integrated conservation treatments to gain efficiencies. Structural practices include terraces, filter and buffer strips, grassed waterways and field borders.
- Irrigation expanded in more humid areas, and as irrigators shifted to more efficient systems and improved water management strategies, per-acre water application rates decreased by 19% and withdrawals by 7 million-acre-feet.
- Nearly 70% of cultivated cropland had conservation crop rotations, and 28% had high-biomass conservation crop rotations.
Because of this increased conservation, the report estimates:
- Average annual water (sheet and rill) and wind erosion dropped by 70 million and 94 million tons, respectively, and edge-of-field sediment loss declined by 74 million tons.
- Nearly 26 million additional acres of cultivated cropland were gaining soil carbon, and carbon gains on all cultivated cropland increased by over 8.8 million tons per year.
- Nitrogen and phosphorus losses through surface runoff declined by 3% and 6%, respectively.
- Average annual fuel use dropped by 110 million gallons of diesel fuel equivalents, avoiding associated greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.