Farmers, ranchers and landowners are doing their part to improve water quality

Drive across Nebraska or fly overhead and you will see evidence of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s work on the state’s landscape.

Conservation practices like streamside buffers, restored wetlands, and fields planted with protective cover are just a few visible signs of the agency’s work in our state.

NRCS conservationists work with farmers and ranchers wanting to install conservation practices. NRCS offers assistance to install more than 170 practices to improve soil health, water quality, air quality and wildlife habitat. When planning these practices, NRCS staff works to help producers maintain or improve agricultural productivity.

As the nation celebrates National Water Quality Month in August, NRCS in Nebraska salutes the conservation-minded farmers and ranchers who do their part daily to improve water quality and other natural resources on their operations. Without their efforts we wouldn’t have clean, safe water for drinking, recreation and other purposes.

Agriculture can and does play a critical role in improving water quality and other natural resources in our state. Because 97% of the land is privately owned in Nebraska, considerable water quality and other natural resource improvements will be achieved by farmers, ranchers, and private landowners as they make conservation decisions every day.

For instance, the Shell Creek Watershed Improvement Group is made up of landowners and farmers who led a grassroots effort to improve water quality. They worked with NRCS and a variety of partners on the local, state and federal level including, the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District, Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, local high school science classes, and others to monitor the health of the watershed and promote water quality practices.

Through this collaborative effort, over 240 landowners have installed more than 340 conservation practices, including no-till farming, filter and buffer strips and cover crops. As a result of these practices, Atrazine levels have significantly declined in Shell Creek, resulting in the creek being removed from the EPA’s list of “impaired waterways.”

This is just one example of how our success in improving water quality in Nebraska rests with private landowners, and I am confident they will continue to do their part.But we invite more producers to include conservation as part of their operation. Farmers and ranchers who are interested in learning how to integrate conservation into their operation, can visit USDA’s website for more information about NRCS conservation opportunities and assistance.

—Craig Derickson is state conservationist for NRCS in Nebraska.