By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy

National Farmers Union’s other weekly blog, the Climate Column, has highlighted the value of conservation planning, which assists with the selection and implementation of practices that address specific conservation concerns, such as pest management, biodiversity, or soil health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now encouraging producers to undertake a Resource Stewardship Evaluation (RSE) to identify what’s working well and what could be improved with regards to natural resources on their operations.

An RSE looks at the entire farm operation and compares existing management and conservation performance to science-based thresholds established by the agency for five natural resource concerns: soil management, water quality, air quality, and wildlife habitat. After the evaluation, the participating producer is provided with a bar graph demonstrating how the farm stacks up on issues like erosion, nutrient run-off, and soil organic matter. This information can help the producer identify places to save money on inputs or provide purchasers with sustainability metrics.

This opportunity may be particularly valuable to beginning farmers, as they can use the information to assist in conversations with landlords and lenders. While established producers may rely on long-term relationships with other stakeholders in land management decisions, beginning producers often don’t have that advantage. An easy-to-read graph created and validated by an expert third party could be of great value to a beginning producer who wants to discuss conservation practices, like wind breaks or riparian buffers, with their landlords. Producers in the market for land could even ask existing landowners to have an RSE to use the results in land acquisition decisions.

To find out more about RSET, see the NRCS fact sheet.

Do you think an RSE would be helpful to your operation? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Like what you’ve read? Check out our Beginning Farmer Forum home page, and join the conversation in the Beginning Farmer Forum Facebook group.

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