Rooted in Resilience: A look at the benefits of Conservation Agriculture Program opportunities

Read Rooted in Resilience.

Balancing trade-offs in farm management decisions is rarely easy. Fortunately, conservation practices can enhance production goals by optimizing nutrient-use efficiency and reducing loss. Conservation practices can increase efficacy of weed management tools and improve yield consistency, all while investing in long-term land stewardship goals.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) provides a variety of programs to offset the cost of trying new conservation practices on the farm. The Inflation Reduction Act has increased funding to this year’s programs, particularly those focused on nutrient management and building soil carbon. Local offices across the inland Pacific Northwest (iPNW) are anticipating the ability to support a higher percentage of applications for the 2023/2024 cycle. Applications received by October 20 will be considered for the 2024 funding period.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) can benefit dryland grain producers:

At the most basic level EQIP is for farms or fields in the first stages of adopting new practices. EQIP will help offset costs of transitioning into reduced (2-3 pass) or full no-till systems, cover crops, integrated pest management (IPM), and nutrient management. Historic dollar values for common practices range from $91/ac for multi-species cover cropping, $46/ac for prescription nutrient management, $43/ac for reduced till/no-till, $300/ac riparian planting.

CSP is a program for producers who are currently implementing conservation practices and want to take their conservation efforts to the next level. In this program, participants can continue their existing conservation efforts (and get paid for it!) and select additional enhancements that fit their operation and goals. These enhancements include conservation farming practices such as no-till/ reduced till, nutrient management, pest management plans; as well as pollinator and other wildlife habitat creation, buffer strips, and more.

Don’t wait to reach out to your local NRCS office about applying for an EQIP or CSP contract before this year’s deadline of October 20, 2023.

Many conservation goals can benefit both productivity and revenue. Learn more and start exploring opportunities for qualifying conservation practices with these resources around nutrient management, IPM, and soil health found on this website:

  • Nutrient management: optimizing nutrient-use efficiency and reducing nutrient loss are the best ways to reduce costs and get the most out of your fertilizer investment. The ‘4 Rs’ of nutrient management are a great place to start with getting the right source, at the right rate, in the right place, at the right time.
    • Yield monitors and protein monitors are a great way to get real-time feedback on opportunities for increasing site specific nutrient management. With or without those tools, a great way to check your nitrogen-use efficiency is with this post-harvest nitrogen use calculator.
    • Other publications available on the Soil and Water Resources page of the WSU Wheat and Small Grains website include nutrient management guides for wheat and oilseeds, using UAV mapping in precision ag, a case study with Eric Odberg who implemented for precision nitrogen management, as well as a variety of resources about soil pH and liming.
    • Soil organic matter contributes significantly to nutrient cycling and helps retain soil nutrients. It also increases infiltration, water holding capacity, and helps build soil aggregates, all of which contribute to reducing soil erosion and associated nutrient loss. Reducing tillage, retaining residue, and adding organic amendments are all ways to increase soil organic matter.
      • A WSU study published in 2001 by Cox et al. found that compost added to eroded hilltops at an upper rate of 200 tons/ac, increased soil quality by: increasing soil pH, water infiltration, P and K levels, soil aggregates, and reducing bulk density. With supplemental N addition, the first year showed an increase in barley yield and three years later winter wheat yield was also significantly increased. Compost application cost-share is currently available through both NRCS and WSDA programs.
  • IPM for Weeds
    • The NRCS uses the acronym PAMS to emphasize the important integrated pest management strategies of Prevention, Avoidance, Monitoring, and Suppression.
    • A solid weed management strategy can go a long way towards maximizing profitability on the farm and there are a variety of tools in a conservation-focused toolbox that can help achieve this goal.
      • Management of weed seeds in harvest chaff is an intervention recently being translated to the iPNW as a weed seed establishment prevention strategy. Two harvest weed seed control methods, are emerging in the region, including chaff lining and harvest weed seed destruction which can be seen in this video showing an impact mill in action.
      • Suppression of weeds, particularly in reduced/conservation or no-till systems, comes with unique challenges, particularly in fallow systems. For more information, check out the best practices for conservation tillage in dryland summer fallow. As precision technology advances both mapping and application tools, from UAVs to sensor-based systems like the Weed-it, opportunities are created to reduce your herbicide use and associated costs as well as expand the accessible chemistries. If these practices might be the next best step on your farm, conservation programs can help develop plans to implement these new strategies.
      • When you’re using herbicides as a suppression tool, it is always important to adhere to the Best Management Practices (BMPS) for Herbicide Resistance.
      • Few things help suppress weeds like a great stand of the plants you want. Some growers in the region are trying cover crops for weed suppression, nutrient management, and soil health.

If you are interested in learning more from growers around the region about what and how they are trying conservation innovations on their farms or their experience working with the NRCS and local conservation district programs, listen to the On-Farm Trials podcast from the PNW Farmers’ Network. The podcast addresses topics such as transitioning to no-till and reduced till practices, cover cropping, precision weed and nutrient management strategies, cropping systems diversification, and building soil health.

Don’t wait to reach out to your local NRCS office about applying for an EQIP or CSP contract before this year’s deadline of October 20, 2023.

Thanks to the Whitman County NRCS Office for their support in gaining a greater understanding of their conservation programs. You can reach their team at 509-397-4301 or email Samuel.Franzen@USDA.GOV.

The USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity (including gender expression), sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, family/parental status, income derived from a public assistance program, political beliefs, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity, in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA (not all bases apply to all programs). Remedies and complaint filing deadlines vary by program or incident.

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For questions or comments, contact Carol McFarland or the PNW Farmers’ Network via email at