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January 2012 Newsletter

Whether we’re talking presidential politics in this election year or talking farm programs and policies, 2012 presents game-changing choices.

One glaring example of a critical fork in the ag policy road is the choice between transparent conservation partnerships versus circling the ag wagons. Please take the time to review the compelling case for partnership at This short Habitat Seven video provides compelling evidence  that conservation pays – that conservation is a profit booster for farmers, ranchers and forest owners; and that investing in conservation on the privately-owned 70% of the lower 48 states generates valuable returns for society as a whole.

More proof of conservation’s benefits came from December’s “Private Lands, Public Benefits” conference co-hosted by the Texas Agricultural Land Trust and American Farmland Trust. Check out the presentations at The conference cited a Colorado study which showed a $6 return on every $1 invested in conservation and a North Carolina study which showed a $4 return. In Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas, despite heavy spending to defeat conservation ballot measures, voters overwhelmingly opted for conservation.

Unfortunately, repeated votes in favor of conservation partnership initiatives still haven’t won the war.  Florida Senate Bill 1184 introduced by State Senator Jim Norman in December would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to “enter upon any nonpublic area of a farm and, without the prior written consent of the farm’s owner or the owner’s authorized representative, operate the audio or video recording function of any device with the intent of recording sound or images of the farm or farm operation.” Similar state “Ag Gag” bills have been proposed and rejected in Iowa, Minnesota and New York.

Entrenched interests fighting to build high walls around production agriculture to block transparency and accountability would do well to heed the advice of Connecticut dairyman Stew Leonard who built his grocery-chain empire based on this policy: “Rule #1 - The Customer is Always Right; Rule #2 - If the Customer is Ever Wrong, Re-Read Rule #1.”

Ag’s customer, the American consumer, loves the bounty provided by America’s farms, ranches and forests. This consumer has voted firmly in favor of paying private landowners for the ecosystem benefits they provide under voluntary programs – as long as these programs include transparency, verification and accountability.

Resources First Foundation is committed to continuing to expand our unique national database of conservation resources to help landowners earn a fair return for the ecosystem services they provide – and to help American consumers and policymakers understand that investing in conservation on private lands is key to the nation’s environmental and economic health. Join us in helping make 2012 the year when conservation partnerships win the war.

As Aldo Leopold pointed out back in 1934, “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.”

A National Voice for Private Landowners

In our final blog post on rancher Jim Stone of Rolling Stone Ranch in Montana and the Blackfoot Challenge, Jim explains that one lesson he’s learned over his decades of working with all kinds of people through the Blackfoot Challenge “is that people I would never have dreamed of inviting to the table, such as the Wilderness Society and EPA, are the same folks that we are working with hand in hand right now! The Wilderness Society has turned out to be an amazing partner, with such wide reach across the planet and an amazing ability to really tell a story. I’ve learned we’re not that far apart. We all want clean water, fish, healthy habitat, and to be able to make a living on working landscapes.”

Jim adds that “We treat government differently, but they’re just like you and me. What we need is to break down the funky barriers that we sometimes put up between us.” More about Jim at


‘Farming for Wildlife’ Videos

The working landscape is not lost to conservation. Instead, it’s an essential ingredient. To illustrate this partnership, Habitat Seven at has produced a series of excellent videos. Farmers, ranchers and environmental groups explain how they’ve joined forces to implement conservation practices which have improved environmental and economic performance simultaneously.


Nutrient Management Standard Focuses on Private Landowners

Announcing USDA’s sweeping new Nutrient Management Conservation Practice Standard Dec. 13, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack explained that “Protecting America's supply of clean and abundant water is an important objective for USDA. This precious resource is the foundation for healthy ecosystems and sustainable agricultural production.” For specifics, go to

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White says the new standard provides “a scientifically credible approach that will result in real environmental protection while maintaining that flexibility that a producer needs to stay in business.” He expects positive results, starting with the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay and the Upper Mississippi River Basin. He says the key is to incorporate “many techniques we have today that we did not have, really, five years ago” and to help landowners understand that “conservation practices work best when they're in a system” which coordinates the full range of practices.

White insists NRCS’s “voluntary incentive-based approach works best.” Pointing out that 70% of the lower 48 states “is owned by private individuals,” he says “the fate of the environment is going to hinge on the millions of individual decisions made by the men and women who own and operate that land.”  Therefore, he says, “it is much more effective to incentivize and work voluntarily than to use a regulatory approach.”

In a nod to the federal EPA, however, White acknowledges that voluntary conservation is primarily occurring in areas like the Mississippi watershed and the Chesapeake Bay “where the increased regulatory pressure or the fear of increased regulatory pressure is really taking over a lot of the conversation.”


What’s in the New Nutrient Management Standards

The Five Goals:

  • “To budget, supply, and conserve nutrients for plant production.”
  • “To minimize agricultural nonpoint source pollution of surface and groundwater resources.”
  • “To properly utilize manure or organic byproducts as a plant nutrient source.”
  • “To protect air quality by reducing odors, nitrogen emissions (ammonia, oxides of nitrogen), and the formation of atmospheric particulates.”
  • “To maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of soil.”

What’s required:

  • “Nutrients must be applied with the right placement, in the right amount, at the right time, and from the right source to minimize nutrient losses to surface and groundwater . . .”
  • “Document the nutrient application rate . . .”
  • “Records must be maintained for at least five years to document plan implementation and maintenance,” with records to include:
    • “quantities, analyses and sources of nutrients applied,”
    • “dates, and method(s) of nutrient applications, source of nutrients, and rates of application,”
    • “weather conditions and soil moisture at the time of application; lapsed time to manure incorporation; rainfall or irrigation event . . .”


More USDA Conservation Initiatives

In other recent action to address soil, water and air quality issues, USDA is urging landowners to apply for technical and financial assistance through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Among the options, landowners can work with NRCS to:
  • develop an Agricultural Energy Management Plan for cutting energy consumption;
  • install conservation practices for organic production;
  • build steel-framed, polyethylene-covered high tunnels for “extending growing seasons in an environmentally safe manner;” or,
  • improve air quality and conserve energy by “establishing cover crops, planting windbreaks, implementing nutrient management practices and applying other conservation measures that mitigate and prevent air quality problems.”
Details at
Send Us Your Comments
To contribute items for our national conservation database or offer your comments, please email: We welcome your insights and we're especially seeking:
  • Success stories about farmers, ranchers and forest owners who are actively engaged in “keeping working lands working.”
  • Success stories such as Jim Stone’s Partners for Conservation.
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