Fields fit for variance?

Producers in 16 counties in southern Iowa may be eligible for soil conservation compliance variances from USDA this spring to allow for limited tillage in cornstalks and soybean stubble. The variances are offered in these counties: Decatur, Lucas, Ringgold, Wayne, Appanoose, Davis, Van Buren, Lee, Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Wapello, Monroe, Mahaska, Keokuk and Washington.

Fields fit for variance?

Producers in 16 counties in southern Iowa may be eligible for soil conservation compliance variances from USDA this spring to allow for limited tillage in cornstalks and soybean stubble. The variances are offered in these counties: Decatur, Lucas, Ringgold, Wayne, Appanoose, Davis, Van Buren, Lee, Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Wapello, Monroe, Mahaska, Keokuk and Washington.

This pertains to fields that have an approved conservation compliance plan, which must be followed for the farmer to stay eligible to participate in USDA farm programs. Fields with highly erodible land are designated as HEL fields and have an official conservation plan farmers are required to follow to remain eligible for USDA farm program benefits. Some compliance plans require no-till for crop production.

Key Points

Farmers in some counties may be eligible for conservation compliance variances.

If limited tillage is needed, you must first request a variance from NRCS.

There are a number of restrictions, so be careful; don’t do too much tillage.


“Because of heavy rainfall events of 2010, some no-tilled fields may have developed small rills across the slope,” says John Myers, state resource conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa.

“This variance allows farmers the opportunity to smooth out those areas without penalty. Farmers are encouraged to leave the maximum amount of crop residue possible on the soil surface, if they do perform any spot tillage,” Myers adds.

Ask before you do tillage

If limited tillage is needed to facilitate planting in these areas subject to excessive soil erosion, farmers should request a variance from their local NRCS office before doing any tillage. After receiving a request, NRCS staff may complete a field review.

“It’s important to note this variance is not blanket coverage allowing farmers to do tillage,” says Myers. “It applies where the farmer has used no-till planting methods as specified in their conservation compliance plan and on areas where permanent practices such as terraces or other structures to control ephemeral gully erosion would normally not be needed.”

NRCS is also offering a variance to allow farmers to deviate from crop residue requirements listed for mulch tillage where additional tillage is needed for replanting purposes or to level the areas where rill erosion or ephemeral gully erosion has occurred.

This only applies where mulch tillage is specified in the conservation compliance plan.

If a farmer’s compliance plan called for establishing perennial forages, the variance will allow a “deviation from the planned rotation” when perennial forages have failed to become established. This will allow producers to plant a row crop in 2011, and prepare for the establishment of the forage in 2012.

There are restrictions

Conservation compliance variances will not be granted on tracts where permanent practices, like grassed waterways, field borders, critical area seeding, and water and sediment control basins needed to control ephemeral gully erosion, were not in place. Also, NRCS will not grant a variance for fields that were tilled prior to the heavy rains, and the compliance plan specifies a no-till planting system.

“If you have questions on your conservation plans or would like to do a review, contact your local field office staff to schedule an appointment. This is a good time to complete conservation plan follow-up visits to review your plan and make any revisions that are needed,” says Myers.

Source: Iowa NRCS

This article published in the April, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.

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