Conservation Best Management Practices

Grassed Waterway – Grassed waterways are constructed shallow channels, permanently seeded to grass that convey surface water across a crop field.  Grass waterways protect soil from gully erosion and reduce sediment and nutrient runoff.  

Grade Stabilization Structure – these structures are often made of large angular rock, called rock chutes.  These chutes control the passage of water through a sudden drop in elevation, reducing the erosive force of the water on the stream bank.  Often rock chutes are paired with grassed waterways that outlet into a stream or ditch. Drop structures are another grade stabilization structure that are used to transition water quickly.  These structures can me made of treated lumber, concrete or manufactured pipe.

Grass Filter Strip – Filter strips are strips of grass planted parallel to a watercourse or surrounding a body of water or a well.  They filter runoff and remove contaminants before they reach the water source.  They can also reduce erosion of soil along the water body as well as provide wildlife habitat.

Riparian Tree Buffer – Riparian buffers are groups of trees planted along a watercourse or around a body of water that reduce.  They filter and remove contaminants before they reach the water source.   They help reduce erosion and provide wildlife habitat.

Manure Storage Structure – Manure storage structures store manure nutrients in a controlled environment until they can be applied sustainably on cropland.  Types of manure storage structure vary depending upon whether the manure to be stored is liquid or solid manure.  Concrete structures with a roof are common for solid manure and tanks or earthen structures are more common with liquid manure.

Nutrient Management Plan – Nutrient management plans manage the 4R’s of fertilizer applications – the right rate, at the right time, in the right place and with the right source.  Nutrient management plans are written to help producers plan applications of commercial fertilizer, manure, biosolids and/or compost to maximize crop production and improve water quality.

Cover Crop – Cover crops such as cereal rye, clover, oats and winter wheat are planted to temporarily protect the soil from wind and water erosion during times when commodity crops- like corn and soybeans- are not being grown in the field.   Cover crops that survive the winter months also supply living roots that benefit soil ecology.  Cover crops can also trap and store nutrients and reduce weeds.  

Prescribed Grazing – Often called intensive grazing, rotational grazing or mob grazing, prescribed grazing manages the harvest of forage with grazing or browsing livestock.  Often large pastures are divided into smaller paddocks with electric fence and livestock are moved from paddock to paddock on a schedule based on forage availability and livestock nutritional needs. 

Tree Windbreak – Tree windbreaks are single or multiple rows of trees and shrubs strategically designed and placed to protect areas from wind.  Most windbreaks include species of evergreen trees so that they provide relief all year.  Windbreaks are installed to protect topsoil in cropland from wind erosion, provide wind relief for livestock, reduce wind velocity around farmsteads and as living snow fences to control drifting snow.  They also provide wildlife habitat, especially during winter.

 Wetland – Wetlands are areas of saturated soils and water-loving plants.  They vary widely in size and shape and can consist of a variety of plants – including grasses, sedges, shrubs and/or trees.  Often referred to as the “kidneys of the earth”, wetlands improve water quality by filtering contaminants like chemicals or sediment.  They may or may not hold water all year long as some are intermittent, only holding water during wetter periods.  Wetlands may provide flood relief and provide ground water recharge as well.  Many species of wildlife depend on wetlands for food and habitat.  

Conservation Tillage – Conservation tillage includes no-till, strip till and mulch till planting practices.  No-till is a planting method with no tillage of the soil prior to planting, leaving 100% of the previous crop residue on the soil surface.  Strip Till is a planting method where tillage is only done in narrow strips across the field, leaving the area between the strips untilled.  Crops and nutrients are then placed into the tilled strips.  Mulch till is a planting method with minimal tillage prior to planting, leaving at least 30% of the previous crop residue at the surface.  Conservation tillage practices improve soil quality by reducing soil erosion and increasing soil organic matter and soil tilth.    

grass swale in a farm field