Building trust in food begins with empowering farmers through one of the largest and most diverse conservation- and sustainability-focused public-private partnerships in our nation’s history: America’s Conservation Ag Movement. To find the latest news and resources related to the Movement, visit AgWeb.com/ACAM.
Kinsie Rayburn is a Conservation Knowledge Officer with Farm Journal's Trust In Food.
“Water and ag go hand-in-hand: without good ag management you don’t have good water; without good water management you don’t have good ag.”
— Sam, Kentucky Farmer
Recent research by Trust In Food, in collaboration with American Public Media’s The Water Main, analyzed perspectives from more than 900 farmer-respondents across 43 states on what farmers know about water-related issues, their concern around water resources, and conservation actions they take to protect the water resources that their operations rely on. The full report can be viewed here, but this article focuses on one question and how the findings can increase the resilience of your farming operation.
Trust in Food researchers asked farmers, “In the next 20 years, do you think an increase in flooding is likely?” A significant number of farmers, 63%, responded yes, they do think an increase in flooding events is likely. The concern of these farmers is supported by warnings issued by both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the USDA. In 2019, the USDA issued 1,351 excessive rain, moisture and humidity designations across the 2,000-plus county or county regions it serves—accounting for more than 60% of USDA service areas under disaster designations for excessive water.
Across the U.S. it is likely that all farmers have some experience with flood events, either personally or second-hand through other farmers’ experiences. What sets some farmers apart from others is the use of management practices that help reduce the negative consequences of a flood event, therefore increasing their operations’ level of embedded resiliency.
With this in mind, how do you feel about the ability of your farm to recover after a flood event? There are many flood impact mitigation practices suitable for every geography, soil type and farm-operation size. Among these options is the implementation of conservation ag practices.
Here are four steps that can help you on your way to protect your farm investments and embed resiliency:
1. Keep living roots and leave residue. Healthy residue levels and cover crops help improve the level of organic matter in your soil, which reduces the formation of soil crusting, improves water-holding capacity and infiltration rates, and reduces the risk of erosion and nutrient loss.
2. Minimize soil disturbance. Reduced tillage practices help increase levels of soil organic matter, form more stable aggregates, reduce the risk of erosion and compaction, improve water filtration and improve soil’s drainage capabilities.
3. Control the flow. Implementing buffer zones in areas with low production can help protect more productive acres, slow the flow of runoff, filter out nutrients, capture sediment, and increase the filtration of your soils.
4. Construct or maintain adequate drainage-control measures. Conservation-drainage techniques, such as water-control structures that allow farmers to manipulate the water table based on plant and field needs, bioreactors, saturated buffers and constructed wetlands, allow a farmer to have more control over drainage, reduce nutrient loss, improve downstream water quality and protect yields.
Even in seasons with minimal flood disturbances, conservation agriculture practices can help farmers save time and money by reducing field damage, nutrient loss and input costs. If you believe that you need to embed more resistance into your farm operation, reach out to your local USDA service center, soil and water conservation district, Extension specialists and crop advisors to see what kind of technical and financial assistance is available in your area.