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How do I develop a conservation or land use plan for my property?

Whether you own, lease or rent your farm property, or work as a farm employee, a land use or conservation plan is a vital part of the farm business. Such plans consider the natural features of the farm. They provide guidelines and strategies for addressing the land use and conservation goals for the property as part of the overall business operation. They are a valuable tool for a wide range of natural resource concerns, from soil-building to manure management to sensitive areas management.

Here are some things to think about:

  • A land use plan includes an inventory of the natural features and resources of the property -- the soils, waterways, and woodlands, for example. It can also identify wildlife habitat and corridors, rare and protected species, proximity to drinking water supplies, etc.
  • A land use plan will describe goals for natural resource management. These are unique to each property, farmer and landowner. How important is it to sustain or improve soil health, or to protect sensitive habitat?
  • Once the goals are expressed, a good plan will recommend farm management strategies to meet them. These strategies (also known as best management practices) will include production practices (e.g., farming on the contour or crop rotations) and installations (e.g. drainage swales, manure pits or compost pads). A typical plan will also address pest and nutrient management. A plan might include the use of conservation easements or set-aside programs.
  • If you own property and are thinking of starting an enterprise, your enterprise will hinge on a combination of compatibility with the natural features of the site, your business concept, and your market investigation and preferences.
  • Sometimes a land use plan or farm conservation plan is required to qualify for certain federal and state incentive, cost share, grant or certification programs.
  • There are agencies, organizations and private consultants who will prepare such plans. Some are free; some charge a fee.

Here is a sample of resources:

General information and fact sheets on farm conservation practices is available from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Your local NRCS office can help with preparing farm conservation plans. Also be sure to make contact with your county Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Check out Conservation and Resource Management publications from NRAES.

ATTRA: Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas has a wealth of information online, including info about sustainable farming production practices.

The Real Dirt: Farmers Tell about Organic and Low-Input Practices in the Northeast and Building Soils for Better Crops are available through Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).

The USDA National Organic Program is now overseeing national organic standards and certification.

Information about agricultural Best Management Practices for New England can be found at

New England Biosolids & Residuals Association offers information on agricultural best management practices.



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