What Can The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Do For You?

Whether you’re a new grower or an experienced farmer, connecting with a local NRCS agent puts powerful (and free) tools within easy reach.

by Robin Hackett
PHOTO: Warren Wong/Unsplash

Although many farmers (myself included) have a “go it alone” attitude, passing up the opportunity to work with an NRCS agent is sure to be your loss. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will help you evaluate the natural resources on your property, as well as develop a conservation plan to protect them.  

What Is the NRCS?

If you’ve been farming for a while, you’ve probably heard of the NRCS. But you might not know exactly what they do.

There are, after all, plenty of acronyms in the world of farm politics—USDA, NRCS, CAFO, GMO, etc.  

For starters, it is an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Their main focus is working with landowners to develop conservation practices to protect natural resources. This can take the form of technical or financial assistance. 

The NRCS also administers a handful of programs, and does extensive soil and water surveying. If you’ve looked up a soil survey of your property before, chances are the NRCS compiled that data. 

For those who are interested, the NRCS also has an intriguing past. Originally known as the “Soil Conservation Service,” the agency began in the midst of the dust bowl to help farmers fight erosion. Check out Ken Burns’ “The Dust Bowl,” a documentary that dives into the early days of the agency, for a more in-depth history.

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Read more: Soil health is important. Here’s what you should know.

Conservation Plans

So, setting aside the history, what exactly does the NRCS do for landowners today? The agency primarily assists property owners by providing free technical assistance, which usually starts with a conservation plan.  

A conservation plan? It’s essentially an inventory of the natural resources on your property, as well as an explanation of the different ways you could steward those resources going forward.

In case that’s too abstract, let’s look at an example. Say that you have a pond on your property that you want to make sure isn’t being polluted by erosion from your crop fields or runoff from your livestock. An NRCS agent will help you determine if this is in fact happening.

If it is, they’ll be able to help you figure out how to address the issue going forward. On one farm I used to work on, the NRCS helped us figure out how to divert runoff that would frequently flood our forage fields.

The NRCS isn’t just there to help you fix problems, however. They can also help you achieve conservation goals that you have, including things like creating particular kinds of habitat. In case you want even more detail, here’s an example plan from the NRCS.

Read more: Soggy season on the farm is a slog, but these solutions can help you manage the muck.

Getting Started

In most cases, work with the NRCS begins by contacting your local field office. There are around 2,500 nationwide, so you shouldn’t have to look too far. 

Next, you’ll most likely work with an agent to create a conservation plan for your property. The process is free, non-binding, and voluntary. Regardless of what you end up using your conservation plan for, you’ll be sure to learn a ton about your property.

Free assistance from experts is never something to pass up. Reach out to your local NRCS agent to see what they can teach you about your property and how to improve it.

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