Bird’s-eye view on conservation

In May this year federal conservation officials will begin a statewide effort to conduct conservation compliance reviews using aerial photography. After piloting a similar project last year in two of the agency’s five administrative areas, officials with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service have expanded the project to all tracts randomly selected for annual conservation compliance reviews.

Last year’s pilot project included 635 sites in 40 counties in Iowa. This year officials estimate 1,620 sites will be reviewed in all 99 counties in the state. NRCS will send letters to all landowners with randomly selected sites before flights begin.

Key Points

NRCS will begin flying fields statewide to check for conservation compliance.

Landowners with randomly selected sites will be notified before flights begin.

NRCS is required to check a random sample of highly erodible fields each year.

“We found the aerial images provided a much better vantage point to see damaged waterways and ephemeral gully erosion, both top natural resource concerns in our state,” says Marty Adkins, NRCS state resource conservationist.

Instead of staff taking photographs, this year NRCS will contract to use special planes equipped with GPS-synched, high-resolution cameras attached to the belly of the craft. “We feel this will be much more efficient,” says Adkins. “We went through several teams of volunteers to complete last year’s pilot project. All the banking and tight turning of the airplane that is required to get good photographs took a lot of time.”

Closer look at compliance

If this year’s photography shows no signs of compliance issues, NRCS will send landowners the “good-news” letter shortly after photos and plans are reviewed. If photos reveal potential issues, a conservation compliance team member will do a full-field review, using documentation from the landowner’s conservation plan. The review will include, at minimum, a check for crop residue levels and ephemeral gully erosion. Landowners may request to be present during on-site reviews, says Adkins.

NRCS will be using conservation compliance teams to ensure no employee will complete a status review for land in their home county, he says. These area-based teams will also conduct on-the-ground compliance reviews on tracts with variances from previous years and check tracts where whistleblowers, loan participants and others are involved.

Out of compliance

When a tract is found out of compliance, the team leader will send letters to participants no later than July 13, says Adkins. Landowners may appeal the initial technical finding to the Farm Service Agency.

The 1985 Farm Bill requires NRCS to check a random sampling of highly erodible fields each year to ensure farmers are following the provisions in their conservation plans. Compliance is required for maintaining eligibility for USDA programs.

Greiner is state public affairs specialist for USDA-NRCS in Iowa.

For more information about conservation and wetland compliance, visit or your local NRCS office.


AERIAL VIEW: Taken during last year’s pilot project in Iowa, this photo shows an example of the ephemeral gully erosion issues observed during the conservation compliance reviews.

This article published in the April, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.