What is the single biggest challenge you face in your efforts to put more soil and water conservation on your farm?
- I’m unsure what conservation practices are the best “bang for my buck.”
- I feel conservation “best practices” limit my ability to maximize production, or won’t pay off.
- I’m not satisfied with the assistance available from my local conservation agency.
- I don’t see enough of a need on my farm that it has been a priority.
This question was first asked by Agren last year at the Ag Data Conference, sponsored by Corn & Soybean Digest. Of those farmers in attendance, by far the #1 response was:
1) I’m not sure what conservation practices are the best “bang for my buck”. While the results of this informal survey are not scientific, I think they are still intriguing. We have asked this same question at many other farmer gatherings and responses trend the same.
It is sad when a majority of farmers report that they don’t implement conservation practices because they are unsure how much bang for their buck a practice will provide. Really? For this I fault conservationists, like myself, and not farmers.
Agren’s COO, Jamie Ridgely, often recounts an experience that happened to her at the time of the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit. Jamie and her husband, Cory, farm right in the epicenter of the 3-county area targeted by the lawsuit. In talking with farmers in her neighborhood, Jamie said most farmers did not deny that agriculture was a significant cause of the high nitrates in the Raccoon River. However, the farmers had no idea how much nitrogen they were losing and to what extent they may or may not be part of the problem. They admitted they had a complete lack of understanding for what conservation practices would have the most impact on reducing nitrates. What fields were the worst contributors? Were their fields worse than neighboring fields? Would split application of nitrogen provide more or less benefit than a nitrogen stabilizer? Would a bioreactor remove more nitrogen from ground water than cover crops? Even at that time, there were so many practices to choose from and so little information available that farmers seemed paralyzed.
Farmers need to aggressively implement more conservation; sooner not later. As conservationists, our job is to help farmers get the biggest bang for the buck. We must unequivocally recommend those practices that can impact those areas that have a disproportionate negative impact. As a conservationist, if you don’t know, you need to find out. The failure to do this results in nothing more than random conservation. We have to stop selling the latest program or product and focus on providing farmers options that best suit their needs.