About Agricultural Erosion and Sedimentation Plans

What does the plan do?

An Ag E&S plan determines the potential for erosion on your fields based on how you’re farming them.

This plan demonstrates that your soils can tolerate the amount of soil disturbance caused by farming or grazing. It also details how you’re addressing erosion that might be accelerated by livestock presence on your farm.

Developing an Ag E&S plan involves completing a soil loss equation. The RUSLE 2 soil erosion model is an equation that factors in the soil type, topography and management practices of a field, and predicts the soil’s natural tolerance for erosion in tons per acre. It then compares this tolerance to the rate of erosion caused by your farming activities.

If current or proposed farming activities cause erosion at a rate higher than the soil’s natural tolerance, it’s necessary for you to develop a less-intensive management plan for that field. If the erosion rate is lower than the field’s tolerance, the rotation is deemed acceptable.

Why are Ag E&S plans important?

Some soils in the county are more erosive than others, and the steepness of a field affects its predisposition to erosion as well. Certain agricultural activities carry a higher risk for soil erosion than others: tillage, a rotation heavy on annual crops and the removal of crop residue will all increase the risk of soil erosion on a field. Conversely, fields managed with reduced or no tillage, cover crops and heavy crop residues, and a rotation that intersperses perennial crops will have lower susceptibility to erosion.

Who needs an Ag E&S plan?

Ag E&S plans are required. Since 1972, any operation that uses more than 5,000 square feet of land for crops needs an Ag E&S plan for every field they farm. In recent years, the law has been extended to also apply to operations with unvegetated livestock exercise lots larger than 5,000 square feet (also called Animal Concentration Areas or Animal Heavy Use Areas). E&S plans are not required for fields that are permanent pastures or hayfields.

Isn't this in my Conservation Plan?

It is common for full-time farmers in our county to have Conservation Plans. The RUSLE 2 calculation is a part of the development of a Conservation Plan, and so a Conservation Plan fulfills most of the requirements of an Ag E&S plan. Make sure that you have a written plan for how you minimize erosion from animal heavy use areas (it’s a relatively new requirement), and check the list below to see if you’re due for an updated Conservation Plan.

Many farmers’ existing Conservation Plans are outdated or do not cover newly acquired fields or livestock exercise lots. Beginning, part-time or small-scale farmers frequently lack any version of an Ag E&S plan.

When should I revise my Ag E&S plan or Conservation Plan?

When field boundaries change or a crop rotation or tillage type changes on a farm, the operator should revise the Erosion & Sedimentation portion of their farm’s plan. A revision of an existing plan is required when the new practices are more intensive than the practices written in the plan.

You should revise your Ag E&S plan if your farm or fields have:

  • added land to the operation (if the new land does not already have a plan)

  • a higher frequency of tillage events since the previous plan was written: discing more frequently during the crop rotation, or  switching to a more aggressive method of tillage.

  • a lower frequency of perennial crops in your rotation: such as fewer consecutive years of hay in a rotation.
  • a higher frequency of annual crops in your rotation: such as increasing the years of grain corn in a rotation or adding a year of soybeans to an existing rotation

  • a higher frequency of low-residue crops in your rotation: such as planting more soybeans, corn silage, or if you begin to harvest grain corn residue for bedding

  • merged fields in a way that increases the length of a field along a slope

  • reduced the frequency of cover crops or other overwintering crops in your rotation

  • operation has an Animal Concentration Area (ACA) not referenced in the current plan

If an operation has made any of the above changes since the last time a plan was written for their farm, they should revise their plan. If they are considering making any of the above changes, they should verify that the field(s) can tolerate that change.

How do I complete the plan?

Landowners and operators can hire someone to do this plan for them, or they can take control of the planning process by using the free, online mapping and modeling platform PAOneStop. The program allows anyone to develop a plan for their current field activities, as well as to predict the effect of a change in field boundaries or cropping practice– before the change is made.

Call or visit the Conservation District for more detailed criteria for developing a plan, to receive a plan workbook (coming soon!), or to discuss options for assistance in writing a plan. The District maintains a list of certified plan writers throughout the state, and there is a state fund for reimbursing the cost of any plan written from January 2017 through April 2018. Contact the Conservation District for more information!