This month I decided to step away from manure management issues and focus on the equally important subject of soil loss. There are many crop production benefits to keeping topsoil on the fields. Soil particles that erode and get into a stream are a form of pollution. For these reasons it is important to minimize the amount of soil loss from farm fields.
Several changes to the regulations regarding erosion and sediment control went into effect in November 2010. Once again these changes apply to all Pennsylvania farms, not just those in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Also, once again the underlying issue is water quality. All farms that till more than 5,000 square feet (approximately 0.1 acre) are expected to have a written plan to reduce erosion called an Agricultural Erosion & Sedimentation Control Plan (Ag E&S Plan).
What is an Ag E&S Plan? Those of you involved in excavation work or the logging industry are probably very familiar with the term E&S Plan. The Ag E&S Plan deals with soil loss and includes methods and practices that prevent sediment from getting into streams. In agriculture, the common tool for reducing soil erosion has been the Conservation Plan.
On one hand these regulations are not really new. Since 1972 the state has required a plan for plowing and tilling. Although not actually written, it was generally understood that a farm with a Conservation Plan written by the Soil Conservation Service (now the NRCS) met the state requirements.
All farms and situations are different. Your existing Conservation Plan may or may not meet the current state requirements. Check with NRCS when you update your plan.
The following items should be addressed in your Ag E&S Plan.
The amount of soil loss is not to exceed the tolerable level (T) over the planned crop rotation. This is calculated using a complex formula that includes many factors. Some of these factors are beyond the operator's control such as soil type, slope and length of slope. Other factors provide the operator with options. These include crop rotation, type of tillage, and amount of residue left after harvest.
Fields located within 100 feet of a river or stream may need additional conservation practices to minimize erosion.
Additional Best Management Practices (BMP's) may be needed to minimize erosion and sedimentation from animal heavy use areas.
The Ag E&S Plan should have a map that shows surface waters, field boundaries, farm buildings, animal heavy use areas, roads, existing BMP's and planned BMP's. The plan should also include a soils map.
Reducing soil loss is a goal with many benefits. Crop production is improved by keeping topsoil on fields. Less sediment means cleaner water for residential and recreational uses. Farmers, sportsmen and homeowners all benefit. The first step towards achieving this goal is to have a good Ag E&S Plan.
If you want to discuss this subject in more detail or discuss a specific situation on your operation, please contact me.
Somerset Conservation District
phone: 814-445-4652 ext. 5
(To learn more about the Somerset Conservation District visit www.somersetcd.org)