On-Farm Land Use: Regulations and Environmental Stewardship

Northeast beef cattle owners are faced with implementing best management practices, as well as adhering to local, statewide and national regulations.
On-Farm Land Use: Regulations and Environmental Stewardship - Articles

Updated: January 2, 2014

On-Farm Land Use: Regulations and Environmental Stewardship

Best Management Practices

Cattle producers take pride in serving as stewards of the land and our nation's natural resources while producing a safe, affordable product.

Best Management Practices

Best Management Practices (BMPs) on agricultural operations that will enhance farm production and protect natural resources. Best Management Practices include all aspects of farming, especially that of animal population density, and manures. Animal excrement has been recognized as an important source of macro and micro nutrients for healthy crop growth, and organic matter which is critical to improving soil fertility. Used as fertilizer, manures can improve the availability to crops of essential nutrients like nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and micronutrients such as iron and zinc. Increasing organic matter is critical for healthy soils since it increases the nutrient holding capacity of soil, among additional benefits.

Best Management Practices include fencing animals out of waterways, minimizing tilling, monitoring vegetative cover on fields, using sound grazing practices, balancing carrying capacities with available land and/or forage, and providing optimum handling and care facilities for cattle and handlers.

Land Owner Opportunities

Article 25-AA PDF of the Agriculture and Markets Law authorized the formation of local agricultural districts in accordance with a landowner initiative, county review, state certification, and county adoption. The purpose of agricultural districting is to encourage the continued use of farmland for agricultural production. The Program is based on a combination of landowner incentives and protections, all of which are designed to prevent the conversion of viable farmland to non-agricultural uses. Included in these benefits are favored real property tax treatment (agricultural assessment and special benefit assessment), and protections against restrictive local laws, government funded acquisition or construction projects, and private nuisance suits involving agricultural practices.

Agricultural Assessment

One of the most important benefits of the Agricultural Districts Program is the opportunity provided farmland owners to receive real property assessments based on the value of their land for agricultural production rather than on its development value. The Division administers the Land Classification System, including maintenance of the statewide master list of agricultural soils. This system provides the basic soils information needed to calculate agricultural assessments for individual farms.

Regulatory Concerns

There are several concerns any Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) may have to consider. The AFO Virtual Information Center is a tool to facilitate quick access to livestock agricultural information in the US. This site is a single point of reference to obtain links to state regulations, web sites, permits and policies, nutrient management information, livestock and trade associations, federal web sites, best management practices and controls, extension and land grant universities, research, funding, and information on environmental issues. You can search links by selecting a specific link category, by selecting a state to obtain state-specific links, or view the EPA AFO website.

Conservation Planning

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's principal agency for providing conservation technical assistance to private landowners, conservation districts, tribes, and other organizations. NRCS delivers conservation technical assistance through its voluntary Conservation Technical Assistance Program (CTA). CTA is available to any group or individual interested in conserving our natural resources and sustaining agricultural production in this country. This assistance can help land users:

  • Maintain and improve private lands and their management
  • Implement better land management technologies
  • Protect and improve water quality and quantity
  • Maintain and improve wildlife and fish habitat
  • Explore opportunities to diversify agricultural operations
  • Develop and apply sustainable agricultural systems

Protecting and Enhancing our Natural Resources

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also offers easement programs to landowners who want to maintain or enhance their land in a way beneficial to agriculture and/or the environment. All NRCS easement programs are voluntary. NRCS provides technical help and financial assistance, but local landowners and organizations are needed to make NRCS easement programs successful. Easement programs include the following:

  • The Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) helps purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses.
  • The Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) protects, restores, and enhances grassland, including rangeland, pastureland, shrubland, and certain other lands.
  • The Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) assists landowners in restoring, enhancing and protecting forestland resources on private lands
  • The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) protects, restores, and enhances wetlands. Achieving the greatest wetland functions and optimum wildlife habitat on every acre enrolled in WRP is the goal.

Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) voluntary programs, eligible landowners and agricultural producers may qualify for financial and technical assistance to help manage natural resources in a sustainable manner through the following programs:

  • The Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) provides assistance to agricultural producers who address issues such as water management, water quality, and erosion control by incorporating conservation into their farming operations.
  • The Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) is a directed at agricultural producers to implement agricultural water enhancement activities on agricultural land to conserve surface and ground water and improve water quality.
  • Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) serves as an incentive for the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies while leveraging Federal investment in environmental enhancement and protection, in conjunction with agricultural production.
  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a voluntary program that provides assistance to agricultural producers through contracts up to a maximum term of ten years in length.
  • The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) is a program for conservation-minded landowners who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat on agricultural land, nonindustrial private forest land, and Indian land.

Prepared by Audrey Reith, Equine & Livestock Educator, Cornell Extension Orange County, 18 Seward Ave., Suite 300, Middletown, NY 10940-1919 Phone: 845-344-123, Fax: 845-343-7471. Northeast SARE project