Committed to conservation

Minnesota farmers utilize many different conservation practices on their farms to help protect our state's natural resources. Here are just a few of the most common practices farmers use to care for our soil and water.

This berm used to be part of a large ravine where soil and sediment would wash out during heavy rains. To prevent this from happening and keep his soil and nutrients on his field, this farmer built a berm with a tile inlet at the bottom. 

This berm used to be part of a large ravine where soil and sediment would wash out during heavy rains. To prevent this from happening and keep his soil and nutrients on his field, this farmer built a berm with a tile inlet at the bottom. 

Berm

A berm is a mound of earth with sloping sides located between areas of approximately the same elevation. Berms can serve several functions such as directing drainage. For example, water flowing down the slope collects in front of the berm instead of gaining speed and creating a washout in a low spot beyond the berm. 

 

 
CRP plantings help reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat.

CRP plantings help reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

A nationwide, voluntary program to help farmers restore and protect environmentally sensitive land. Participants set aside enrolled land for 10-15 years. Participants receive financial assistance for maintaining this practice. 

 

 
This farmer near Belgrade uses conservation tillage to keep organic matter in the soil on his soybean field

This farmer near Belgrade uses conservation tillage to keep organic matter in the soil on his soybean field

Conservation Tillage

Any method of soil cultivation that leaves the previous year's crop residue (such as corn stalks or wheat stubble) on fields before and after planting the next crop. This helps reduce soil erosion and runoff, and helps the soil retain organic matter.

 
By contour farming this field, the farmer is plowing/planting across a slope following its elevation contour lines.

By contour farming this field, the farmer is plowing/planting across a slope following its elevation contour lines.

Contour Buffer Strips

Permanent, narrow bands of grasses or legumes planted on the contour of the land between wider strips of crops. Contour buffer strips help reduce erosion and remove sediment, nutrients, pesticides, and other materials from runoff as it passes through the strip. 

 
The cover crop growing between these corn rows is helping cut down on soil erosion and adding natural organic matter to the soil.

The cover crop growing between these corn rows is helping cut down on soil erosion and adding natural organic matter to the soil.

Cover Crops

Grasses and legumes planted to provide seasonal soil cover on cropland when the soil would otherwise be bare—i.e., before the crop emerges in spring or after fall harvest. Common cover crops in Minnesota include rye and other small grains, and buckwheat.

 
This row of trees acts as a windbreak to reduce soil erosion. A Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) field also protects the soil on this farm in St. James.

This row of trees acts as a windbreak to reduce soil erosion. A Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) field also protects the soil on this farm in St. James.

Field Windbreak 

Linear plantings of trees/shrubs designed to reduce wind speed in open fields, prevent soil erosion, and protect adjacent crops from wind damage. Field windbreaks are typically planted in multiple rows. On the downwind side of a well-established windbreak, wind is generally slowed for a distance of 10 times the height of the trees.

 
See the grass buffer strip on the edge of this corn field in Cannon Falls? It is helping stop runoff into the nearby river.

See the grass buffer strip on the edge of this corn field in Cannon Falls? It is helping stop runoff into the nearby river.

Forested Riparian Buffer 

Linear plantings of trees, shrubs, and grasses designed to protect water quality and wildlife habitat. They are planted strategically along rivers, streams, and other surface waters to slow runoff from fields, trap and filter sediments, nutrients, and any pollutants before they reach the surface water. In Minnesota, forested buffers are best suited for landscapes that were originally forested or wooded, as opposed to prairie landscapes.

 
This strip of grass helps prevent soil and fertilizer runoff from reaching nearby waterways during heavy rains. 

This strip of grass helps prevent soil and fertilizer runoff from reaching nearby waterways during heavy rains. 

Grass Filter Strip

Grass planted strategically between fields and surface waters to protect water quality by slowing runoff from fields, trapping and filtering sediments, nutrients, and any pollutants before they reach the surface water. Grass filter strips in Minnesota typically range from 20 to 120 feet wide, depending on the characteristics of the surrounding landscape.

 
Grass waterways like this one are great for preventing washouts and keeping soil and sediment on farm fields and out of nearby waterways. 

Grass waterways like this one are great for preventing washouts and keeping soil and sediment on farm fields and out of nearby waterways. 

Grass Waterway 

Downhill grass channels, designed to prevent soil erosion and drain runoff water. As water travels down the waterway, the grass vegetation prevents erosion that would otherwise result from concentrated water flow. Grass waterways significantly help prevent gully erosion.

 
By no-tilling this soybean field, this Cannon Falls farmer is drastically reducing soil erosion and increasing organic matter and nutrients on his field. No-tilling also makes farm operations more efficient by cutting down the time needed to prepare for planting. 

By no-tilling this soybean field, this Cannon Falls farmer is drastically reducing soil erosion and increasing organic matter and nutrients on his field. No-tilling also makes farm operations more efficient by cutting down the time needed to prepare for planting. 

No-Till

When using no-till techniques, farmers will minimally disturb the soil during the growing season. This includes before planting and after harvest, helping preserve organic matter in the soil and maintain soil health. No-till doesn’t work on every field due to landscape and soil types; however, many farmers are researching different tillage techniques to protect soil health. 

 
This wetland was restored by neighboring farmers near Mankato. It covers nearly 50 acres.

This wetland was restored by neighboring farmers near Mankato. It covers nearly 50 acres.

Restored Wetland 

Reestablishes or repairs the hydrology, plants and soils of a former or degraded wetland that has been drained, farmed, or otherwise modified since European settlement. The goal is to closely approximate the original wetland's natural condition, resulting in multiple environmental benefits.

 
This line of trees is commonly referred to as a shelter belt. It helps the soil from being eroded away by wind. 

This line of trees is commonly referred to as a shelter belt. It helps the soil from being eroded away by wind. 

Shelter Belt

Windbreaks designed to protect farmsteads and livestock from wind and blowing snow. Can also be used to protect wildlife wintering areas. One or more rows of trees/shrubs are planted around the area to be protected, surrounding it partly (often in an L-shape) or more completely, like a squarish belt. 

 
Terraces like this one help prevent nutrient runoff and are a great resource for helping farmers protect water quality.

Terraces like this one help prevent nutrient runoff and are a great resource for helping farmers protect water quality.

Terrace

An earthen embankment or ridge that intercepts water runoff, designed to trap runoff water and reduce soil erosion. Terraces can be designed to channel excess water into grass waterways or direct it underground to drainage tile and a stable outlet.

 
Sediment control basins help prevent gully washouts during large rain events. 

Sediment control basins help prevent gully washouts during large rain events. 

Water & Sediment Control Basin

Small earthen ridge-and-channels or embankments built across a small area of concentrated flow within a field. They are designed to trap agricultural runoff water and sediment. Water & sediment control basins are generally reserved for fields with irregular topography.

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Sources: Minnesota Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota Extension, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service