Responsibility of Stewardship
Recently, protection of drinkable water has frequently made the mainstream media. The issues in the Chesapeake Bay, Minnesota, Des Moines, Lake Erie, and the Gulf of Mexico, have all been at least partially attributed to production agriculture. In some cases, regulation has been the necessary action. Put simply, all farmland is part of a watershed, and landowners have a responsibility to protect not only the land base, but also the water flowing across and through it.
A relationship built on trust and strong communication between a landowner and tenant farmer, can benefit all natural resources and bottom line economics. A landowner’s asset, the farmland they own, can be enhanced and protected through practices such as cover crops, grassed waterways, conservation tillage, and buffer strips. These practices can also improve water quality through improved infiltration, soil water holding capacity, and filtering or capturing excess nutrients. These practices are most beneficial when used as a system.
Stewardship starts with Communication
However, not all of these practices are suitable for all farmland. It is important for a landowner to understand a tenant farmer’s concerns. These may include cost, timing, or lack of knowledge. Constant communication, joint learning, and even cost sharing are tactics to overcome these barriers. Landowners and farmers have a wealth of resources to help them identify practices that work for their land and operation. USDA-NRCS, local SWCDs, and other non-profits, like The Nature Conservancy, are working with landowners and farmers to identify systematic solutions to environmental issues without compromising bottom line. Seek out these resources.
Food production through agriculture is foundational to the success and resiliency of our nation. Plentiful water and other natural resources also play no small part in our global stature. A voluntary and proactive approach to conservation, by agricultural landowners and farmers, is preferable over a reactive and regulatory environment that could stifle innovation and require unexpected expenditures. Conservation practices and systems to protect land and water quality should be developed on the farm, where they can be adapted to the unique features of the landscape, rather than in an office or laboratory in some distant city.
Don’t wait. Have conversations with your tenant farmer about how they are protecting your land asset and our water resources. Leverage available knowledge and funding to support implementation of conservation. Support your tenant farmer in success and failure. Focus on long-term goals, rather than short term gains. Protect your natural resources and embrace the competitive advantage gained by doing so.
Upper Wabash River Project Director
The Nature Conservancy