NACD is part of the National Conservation Planning Partnership (NCPP), a collaboration of five key national conservation partners working to make conservation planning better for our customers.

“The NCPP is currently relying on input from producers across the country as it continues its effort to reinvigorate conservation planning.

We are asking that you help us distribute this survey to farmers, ranchers, and foresters within your conservation district’s region. The survey will obtain feedback on additional ways to strengthen the value of a conservation plan and to improve the delivery of conservation planning assistance to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners. Please feel free to circulate this NCPP letter from the NCPP Leadership Team Co-Chair Mike Brown to your planning clients, which describes the goal of the survey and a bit of NCPP’s background.

The survey was developed to expand on the feedback NCPP received in previous employee and client listening sessions in 2018 and 2019. As a result of those sessions, hundreds of suggestions were received and recorded and have been moved forward to improve the conservation planning experience for our valued clients.

The survey will close on Monday, February 15, 2021. All responses will be confidential, and any background information provided will be used for statistical purposes only. Results of this survey will be available in May 2021 on the NCPP website.

As the voice of conservation districts nationwide, we are proud to be part of NCPP’s work in supporting and strengthening our nation’s landowners in protecting our natural resources. Conservation planning is a core of our mission, and we look forward to the work we will accomplish together in increasing productivity and sustainability across our land.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to help share this important survey and for all you do in helping support our conservation mission,



The South Dakota Soil Health Coalition (SDSHC) has released a fun, educational, and agriculturally accurate children’s book titled, “The Soil Quilt.” Geared for third graders, “The Soil Quilt” uses the metaphor of a patchwork quilt that layers the planet to explain how a healthy soil covers the landscape.

“SDSHC did a survey with vocational ag teachers and students, and one of the take-aways was that the earlier we start teaching students about soil health, the greater impact it will have,” SDSHC Coordinator Cindy Zenk said. “So we decided to create a book to help children learn about the importance of soil to our lives and our communities. We hope children will learn that what happens in the soil not only produces our food but also creates the diverse landscape we enjoy, strengthens our families, and builds our communities.”

Published by Ag Storytellers, “The Soil Quilt” was written by Amanda Radke of Mitchell, SD, and illustrated by Michelle Weber of Lake Benton, MN. This is Ag Storytellers’ fourth children’s book, with previous titles including “Levi’s Lost Calf,” “Can-Do Cowkids,” and “A Home Run for Peanuts.”

“With their backgrounds in agriculture, Radke and Weber were the perfect team to make this book a reality,” Zenk said. “Amanda’s understanding of rural life helped her write a story that drives home the point that good soil health is about more than just growing food – it’s about growing our families and communities. Michelle’s artistic skills allowed her to bring Amanda’s story to life through fantastic illustrations that highlight the beauty of life in Rural America.”

“The Soil Quilt” is designed to be enjoyed at home and in the classroom. With a glossary of new vocabulary words to study plus a hands-on learning activity, the book is the perfect way to launch discussions about how everyone can play a role in promoting soil health.

“The mission of the SDSHC is to promote improved soil health,” Zenk said. “We hope young readers will enjoy this story and become passionate about the life beneath our feet and the impact it provides.”

The new book is available for purchase on Amazon or by reaching out to the author and illustrator. Radke’s website is and Weber’s is Also visit to learn more about how Ag Storytellers is promoting agricultural literacy, one book at a time.

For more information about SDSHC, check out


SDSHC is a producer-led, non-profit, membership organization created to promote soil health through education and research.

Ag Storytellers is a publishing company in South Dakota that works to promote agricultural literacy through accurate, engaging, and vibrant books for kids.


Minnehaha Conservation District is asking farmers or individuals interested in urban agriculture throughout Minnehaha County and the surrounding area to please take this brief survey. Responses will help gain a better understanding of local interest in sustainable agriculture in the hopes of developing assistance programs in the future. For questions, or to find out more, please email Alina Krone-Hedman.


Wishing you a new year filled with new hope, new joy, and new beginnings!


The board and staff of the Minnehaha Conservation District wish all of you a blessed holiday season!

Gilbert Family, Buffalo, SD

“I think that’s the big thing about any type of grazing practice, whether you are completely holistic, whether you are doing a two-time-over, whether you’re doing rotational mob grazing, you have to be so aware at all times: What are your grasses doing? What’s happening? What’s the result of this decision?” — Linda Gilbert

The SD Grassland Coalition partnered with the organizations listed below to enhance the Grassland Planner with a release of a short video story each month during 2020 promoting healthy soils, grasslands, and ecosystems.

2020 Grassland Stewardship Communications Project Partners: SD Grassland Coalition, Audubon Dakota, Ducks Unlimited, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, SD Department of Game, Fish and Parks, The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, SD Soil Health Coalition, South Dakota State University, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

USDA is an Equal Opportunity Provider, Employer and Lender.


On Dec. 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced updated payment rates for certain Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) practices by increasing the Practice Incentive Payment (PIP) for certain practices from 5% to 20%. Additionally, producers will receive a 10% PIP for water quality practices on land enrolled in CRP’s continuous signup.

NACD has previously pushed to increase these incentive payments, and this increase will get these payments closer to the 50% cap allowed in the 2018 Farm Bill to further incentivize the enrollment of land that has particularly high conservation benefits.

Continuous enrollments are accepted on a rolling basis, while General CRP applications will be accepted between January 4 – February 12, 2021.

To learn more, visit FSA’s website.

One of NRCS’s Most Popular Conservation Programs
By Sara Wyant

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s EQIP program has put billions of dollars into the hands of producers to address acute conservation needs. The producers must share in the costs of the program.

From coast to coast, farmers and ranchers have found the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to be a great place to find cost share funds to implement practices that can protect the soil and improve water quality. And one of the most popular programs has been the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). But as the program has grown in popularity over the years, demand is far outstripping the number of contracts approved.


2021 Soil Health Conference
January 6-7, 2021

The 2021 Soil Health Conference will be held virtually Jan. 6-7 using the digital tool Whova which will allow for a full schedule of speaker sessions, awards, producer panels, and time to engage with speakers and sponsors. The Whova platform includes an app for your mobile device, so you can join in the fun no matter where you are! Once you register, you will receive email instructions on how to access the Whova website for the conference and download the Whova app.

More information can be found here


Questions? Contact the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition at 605-280-4190 or

Johnson Farms Named Region VII National Environmental Stewardship Award Winner

Johnson Farms of Frankfort, SD, is the Region 7 award winner in the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s National Environmental Stewardship Program. Johnson Farms, along with six other regional finalists, will be considered for the 2021 National Environmental Stewardship Award at the national Cattle Industry Convention in February.

Johnson Farms of Frankfort, South Dakota is operated by Alan and Mickie Johnson, along with their son Brian and his wife Jamie. Love of the land drives all of the Johnson family’s decisions and they are dedicated to improving their soil health through holistic management decisions. Please visit the Environmental Stewardship website for more information.

USDA to Open Signup for the Conservation Reserve Program and CRP Grasslands in Early 2021

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on November 12, 2020 the signup periods for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the CRP Grasslands in 2021. Signup for general CRP will be open from Jan. 4, 2021, to Feb. 12, 2021, and signup for CRP Grasslands runs from March 15, 2021 to April 23, 2021. Both programs are competitive and provide annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes.

“The Conservation Reserve Program and the many focused programs that come under it, like CRP Grasslands, are some of our most critical tools we have to help producers better manage their operations while conserving natural resources,” said Richard Fordyce, Administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency. “As one of our nation’s largest conservation endeavors, CRP has proved to protect our valuable resources, and next year’s signup gives our farmers and ranchers an opportunity to enroll for the first time or continue their participation for another term.”

Enrollment Options

CRP―General Signup

Through CRP, farmers and ranchers establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland. Farmers and ranchers who participate in CRP help provide numerous benefits to the nation’s environment and economy. CRP general signup is held annually. The competitive general signup includes increased opportunities for enrollment of wildlife habitat through the State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative.

Grasslands Signup

CRP Grasslands helps landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland, pastureland, and certain other lands while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. Protecting grasslands contributes positively to the economy of many regions, provides biodiversity of plant and animal populations, and improves environmental quality. A separate CRP Grasslands signup is offered each year following general signup.

Signed into law in 1985, CRP is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the United States. It was originally intended to primarily control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal lands out of production. The program has evolved over the years, providing many conservation and economic benefits. The program marks its 35-year anniversary this December. Program successes include:

  • Preventing more than 9 billion tons of soil from eroding, which is enough soil to fill 600 million dump trucks;
  • Reducing nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to annually tilled cropland by 95 and 85 percent, respectively;
  • Sequestering an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, equal to taking 9 million cars off the road;
  • Creating more than 3 million acres of restored wetlands while protecting more than 175,000 stream miles with riparian forest and grass buffers, which is enough to go around the world seven times; and
  • Benefiting bees and other pollinators and increasing populations of ducks, pheasants, turkey, bobwhite quail, prairie chickens, grasshopper sparrows and many other birds.

The successes of CRP contribute to USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda and its goal of reducing the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture by half by 2050. Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the department-wide initiative to align resources, programs and research to position American agriculture to better meet future global demands. 

For more information on CRP, visit or contact your local FSA county office.   

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.


The Board of Supervisors and staff of the Minnehaha Conservation District would like to thank all of you for your business this year, and wish you a happy, peaceful, healthy Thanksgiving. May we be aware of all of our blessings, large and small, and may we be a blessing in return.

By Eric Hansen, NACD Government Affairs Manager

Even though Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) began on October 1, Congress has not yet passed a full year federal funding bill or appropriations bill. Currently, the federal government is operating under a short-term extension, or continuing resolution (CR), that is set to expire on December 11. Without additional action by Congress, the government will be forced to shut down.


The latest edition of “Soil Visions” newsletter has now been released! Click on the image below to view the full PDF. Are you interested in learning more about specific topics? Contact the Soil Health Coalition and/or visit the technical resource pages of their website

November 17-18, 2020

Get free access to a diverse learning program of speakers addressing cover crop topics including aerial seeding, feeding livestock cover crops through the winter, incorporating cover crops into crop rotations, and more. Cronin Farms Agronomy Manager / SD Soil Health Coalition Board Member Dan Forgey is presenting!

The third National Cover Crop Summit is free-to-attend, 2-day online event that will feature a series of knowledge-building presentations taught by the foremost authorities on cover crops today. Requiring no travel expense or time away from the office or farm, you will be able to participate from the comfort of your own office through a series of online presentation videos delivering practical tips and information on managing cover crops to improve soil health, protect the environment and enhance on-farm profitability.

You should attend the National Cover Crop Summit if you…

  • Currently use cover crops on your farm.
  • Are interested in beginning to use cover crops on your farm.
  • Want to learn more about cover crop products, techniques, challenges and successes.
  • Are an Extension or NRCS official, certified crop advisor or other educator or stakeholder interested in cover crop applications.
  • Are an equipment dealer or product manufacturer seeking information on how to better serve your customers who are seeding cover crops in their farming operations.

The National Cover Crop Summit is free to attend — Sign up here. However, if you’re looking to make get the most out of your Summit experience, they are offering a VIP ACCESS upgrade for just $49. When you upgrade to VIP you’ll receive:

  • 12-month extended access to all 6 Fall 2020 National Cover Crop Summit presentations.
  • Access to 11 exclusive bonus presentations from the 2019 National Cover Crop Summit. Learn more here.
  • A complimentary package of 3 Cover Crop Management Reports offering practical cover crop ideas and advice from some of today’s leading cover crop experts. Learn more here.

FREE ACCESS EVENT SCHEDULE — Unlike an in-person “live” event, there are no set time slots during which individual sessions will only be viewable. To allow you the opportunity to participate on your own schedule, all presentation videos will be posted online at 8 a.m. CST on Nov. 17, and remain accessible on-demand through Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. CST.

VIP ACCESS EVENT SCHEDULE — Unlike registrants with FREE ACCESS, when you upgrade to VIP you’ll receive extended access meaning you can continue to watch and replay all of the National Cover Crop Summit presentations for 12 additional months after the end of the event.

Questions? Email or call (262) 432-0388 or (866) 839-8455 to speak with a customer service representative.


Even though the 2018 Farm Bill was passed nearly two years ago, efforts to implement this piece of legislation still continue today. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been working hard to write the regulations necessary to update its programs and incorporate new provisions from the farm bill ever since it was signed into law. In the past few weeks, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has finalized the regulations for two of the biggest conservation programs in the farm bill – the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)

CSP provides financial assistance to producers who have already begun to implement conservation on their land and are committed to doing more. Producers must have enrolled their entire operation in the program and have already addressed two priority resource concerns, as well as commit to addressing another priority resource concern over the life of their five-year contract. CSP is a competitive program, and only producers that commit to achieving the highest level of conservation are awarded contracts. With over 70 million acres enrolled, it is the largest conservation program in the United States.

The 2018 Farm Bill made some significant changes, including funding cuts to CSP. Changes to the program include:

  • Removing the requirement of $18 average payment per acre;
  • Eliminating automatic renewals in the program;
  • Authorizing a few special “initiatives” with increased payment rates, including a comprehensive conservation plan, cover crops, resource crop rotations and advanced grazing management;
  • Changing application ranking to focus more on the outcomes of practices;
  • Directing the secretary to streamline and coordinate EQIP and CSP and to manage the program to enhance soil health; and
  • Creating a new “Grasslands Conservation Initiative” within CSP, intended to protect grazing lands and improve soil, water and wildlife resources on land with base acres that have not been planted in 10 years.

Most of these changes were included in NRCS’s Interim Rule (draft regulations) that was released for public comment this past winter. This Interim Rule has governed the operations of the program for the past year, and the final regulations recently released by NRCS mirror this rule closely.

However, NRCS did make a few important changes in the final regulations. In response to NACD’s comments, NRCS strengthened the role of Local Working Groups (LWG) and state and local input in the program. The final regulations align CSP with the locally-led process in EQIP. The final regulations also increase the focus on soil health within CSP and allow a cooperator to renew their contract as many times as they are able.

Environmental Quality Incentives Programs (EQIP)

EQIP is one of the bedrock conservation programs responsible for introducing many farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to conservation. As such, it was a priority for NACD to ensure EQIP continues to receive a robust investment in the 2018 Farm Bill. Unlike CSP, EQIP received a boost in funding in the 2018 Farm Bill. Other changes to the program include:

  • Authorizing new conservation activity plans, including conservation planning assessment, soil health planning, resource-conserving, crop rotation planning, and precision conservation management planning;
  • Authorizing soil testing and soil remediation as a practice;
  • Cutting the livestock set-aside from 60 percent to 50 percent and increasing the wildlife set aside from five percent to 10 percent annually; and
  • Retaining many of the other “carve-outs” or “set-asides” in the program, which makes it more difficult for program priorities to be set at the local level.

Like CSP, these changes were made in the Interim Rule that NRCS released last winter for public comment. NRCS made a few changes with the final rule. These changes included two clarifications supporting NACD’s priorities. First, the final rule helps landowners with expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts to implement an EQIP contract on that land as it re-enters production. Second, it ensures that EQIP-funded Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans can be implemented progressively and not all at once.

Looking Ahead

While implementation work on these two programs has ended, NACD is still waiting for the final regulations for several more programs. USDA is still finalizing the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

NACD expects these regulations to be released in the coming months. Fortunately, USDA is still able to continue implementing these programs under the existing regulations as long as necessary. While the regulation-writing process can be lengthy, cooperators on the ground should see NRCS and Farm Service Agency (FSA) working as normal.

This article was written by Eric Hansen. Eric is NACD’s Government Affairs Manager and can be reached at

SOURCE: National Association of Conservation Districts


The South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts (SDACD) is currently accepting proposals for tree research, with approximately $10,000 available in funding.

Single or multi-year proposals may be submitted by any government agency, educational institute, nonprofit, or individual. SDACD is hoping to target proposals that examine cost-effective and practical after-planting survival/care, as well as new and improved species that have long-term survivability and regional adaptability. Applications that involve youth in cooperation with education and/or that involve other participants will receive priority.

The deadline to submit your proposal is Thursday, Dec. 31 at 5:00 p.m. Central. To read more about the preliminary tree research needs identified by SDACD and how to apply, click here.


The 2021 Soil Health Conference will be held on January 6-7, 2021 at the Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center in Pierre, SD.

More information can be found here.

Rick Smith, Hayti, SD

“Simple answers to complex problems are usually wrong, but embracing diversity allows the universe to be your resource for understanding the complex relationships of life within land, water and air. Instead of specializing in, segregating out, or eliminating components, I prefer to find my place within what nature has provided in its entirety. From the deepest mineral digesting soil microbe to the rodent controlling red tailed hawk that soars high overhead, they all matter.” — Rick Smith

The SD Grassland Coalition partnered with the organizations listed below to promote healthy soils, grasslands, and ecosystems.

2020 Grassland Stewardship Communications Project Partners: SD Grassland Coalition, Audubon Dakota, Ducks Unlimited, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, SD Game, Fish and Parks, The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, SD Soil Health Coalition, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and South Dakota State University.


BROOKINGS, S.D. — The Natural Resource Conservation Service has awarded a Conservation Collaboration Grant to South Dakota State University and The Nature Conservancy for a water quantity risk research project to take place in southeastern South Dakota.

A coalition of outreach and research professionals from SDSU and The Nature Conservancy proposed the project to address the critical need for implementing soil health and edge-of-field practices to mitigate water quantity risk at the field and watershed scale. The research, titled “Roadmap to Water Resilience — Valuing Water as a Resource for Improved Ag Land Profitability and Reduction of Downstream Flood Risk,” will serve as a proving ground to develop a roadmap for the optimal targeting and application of these practices in other watersheds across South Dakota and the Midwest. The $887,687 grant will enable the research team to obtain these goals.

NRCS CCG proposals must address some of South Dakota’s prominent natural resource concerns. An emphasis has been placed on project proposals that build the capacity of local watershed groups with development and implementation of effective projects, which the SDSU and The Nature Conservancy project proposal accomplishes.

John McMaine, assistant professor in the department of agricultural and biosystems engineering and SDSU Extension water management engineer, serves as the principal investigator for the project.

“There is evidence that soil health and other conservation practices can improve water management at the field scale during both dry and wet times,” McMaine said. “This research will measure impact of conservation practices on water risk (too much or too little) at the field level, which translates to improved yield, profit and resilience for the farmer.”

The research will also measure the impact at the watershed scale, which could significantly reduce flood risk downstream. The team hopes to quantify how conservation practices can reduce soil moisture risk by preserving a little more of that early season moisture for the dry summer months, which should translate to a yield bump.

“Our methods in this research will hopefully provide farmers with a dollar value of conservation practices because of the improved water management that those practices provide,” McMaine said.

To carry out the project, the Willow Creek watershed, located northwest of Sioux Falls, S.D., was selected as the research location. The watershed’s size, which amounts to about 30,000 acres, makes it small enough that improvements could be measured if widespread implementation is achieved. In addition, the area has seen significant efforts and investment in research and conservation, providing a solid foundation of collaboration to build this project. The project will monitor soil moisture in approximately 30 fields in the watershed, along with meteorological data, economic variables and social science survey data.

The three main components that will accomplish the goal of the research include:

  • Analyzing and demonstrating how watershed modeling can help plan, target and predict environmental and agricultural benefits of practice implementation.
  • Field-scale monitoring and watershed scale modeling for demonstration of landscape performance in dealing with water quantity issues and validation of modeling accuracy.
  • Determining barriers and drivers for producer adoption to improve the environmental and economic performance of working agricultural lands through social and economic analyses.

In addition to team members from SDSU and The Nature Conservancy, collaborators from South Dakota Corn, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, Minnehaha Conservation District, Minnehaha County Farm Bureau, South Dakota Farm Bureau and Friends of the Big Sioux River will provide value to the project’s goals.

The first stage of the project will include reaching out to farmers in the watershed, followed by evaluation of available tools this winter and installation of field monitoring equipment in spring 2021. The project commenced on Sept. 1, 2020, and is scheduled to conclude in August 2023.

“A lot of investment goes into conservation, and it can sometimes be random acts of conservation rather than an optimal investment system that can actually achieve watershed objectives,” McMaine said. “What we hope to do here is to pilot methods to optimize that investment.”

SOURCE: Aberdeen News