Infographic showing five different edge of field practices.
Edge of Field Illustration by Liam Munroe for The Nature Conservancy

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Agriculture, Policy and Conservation Leaders Collaborate on a Path to Accelerate the Use of Edge of Field Practices on U.S. Farmlands

The Nature Conservancy, Soil and Water Conservation Society, and Meridian Institute Launch a 9-point Roadmap to Success

Today, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS), and Meridian Institute launched a Roadmap to accelerate the adoption of edge of field practices on U.S. farmlands. Edge of field practices—like saturated buffers and prairie strips—can help farmers improve water quality, store more carbon in the soil, reduce flooding, support pollinators, and enhance wildlife habitat in working landscapes.

“The Edge of Field Roadmap is a call to action for stakeholders across the agriculture and food supply chains to work collaboratively to elevate awareness and implementation of critical practices that can help the U.S. agricultural system meet long-term sustainability and environmental goals,” said Clare Lindahl, CEO of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. 

The Roadmap was developed through a collaborative effort supported by the Walmart Foundation. TNC, SWCS and Meridian Institute convened 26 partners—senior leaders from agriculture, the supply chain, civil organizations and former government officials—to develop a cohesive set of recommendations that, if implemented together, will accomplish a collective goal for improved water quality and resilient working lands and communities.

“The Roadmap is the result of the partners’ engagement and commitment to fostering landscape-scale change that ensures prosperous farms, clean water, and resilient communities,” said Heather Lair, partner, Meridian Institute. “It’s a compelling blueprint for action.”

Keegan Kult, executive director of the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC), was among the partners that met virtually over the course of six months in 2020 to develop the Roadmap. “ADMC is already making plans to ensure the Roadmap is an actionable document that is able to sustain momentum and have a lasting impact on the ground,” he said. 

To be successful, we must create conservation opportunities at the edges of our croplands.

Kris Johnson Interim Director of Agriculture for TNC in North America

Farmers Are Part of the Solution

Farmers across the United States have successfully installed edge of field practices to better manage water and filter nutrients and sediments from water leaving their fields. Yet, more farmers need to implement these practices on a larger scale and at a faster rate to achieve meaningful environmental improvements.

“Farmers are poised to play an integral role in solving a number of environmental challenges,” said Kris Johnson, interim director of agriculture for The Nature Conservancy in North America. “Science tells us that moving toward a regenerative agriculture system will deliver significant benefits for farmers and nature, but research also tells us we must look beyond what is happening within the farm fields. To be successful, we must create conservation opportunities at the edges of our croplands, as well.”

There is an array of edge of field practices that can deliver numerous benefits. For instance, TNC scientists estimate that approximately 550,000 acres of restored and constructed wetlands—proven edge of field practices—could treat nutrient loss from 50 million acres of cropland. The potential for using these practices in tandem with in-field conservation practices could help meet current water quality goals in iconic water basins like the Mississippi River, Lake Erie, and Chesapeake Bay.

The Roadmap

Working collaboratively, the partners analyzed the current state of the science underpinning edge of field practices, reviewed the current policies and programs in place, and developed a shared understanding of efforts underway that both encourage and discourage edge of field practice adoption. Building upon this knowledge, the partners developed a framework for action and the nine recommendations that comprise the Roadmap. These recommendations are built upon three cross-cutting themes:

  • Invest in science, technology, and data to increase understanding of the effectiveness of practices and provide farmers and conservation professionals with the information necessary to inform EoF practice implementation. 
  • Align policies and programs so they work in tandem and amplify corporate supply chain efforts and emerging ecosystem services markets to create watershed-level improvements.
  • Communicate a vision of a more holistic, regenerative U.S. agriculture system to develop a shared appreciation of the importance of edge of field practices among farmers, landowners, and others throughout the value chain. 

To learn more about the Edge of Field Roadmap, visit nature.org/EdgeofField.

For 75 years, the Soil and Water Conservation Society has been the premier international organization for professionals who practice and advance the science and art of natural resource conservation. We believe sustainable land and water management is essential to the continued security of the earth and its people. Our goal is to cultivate an organization of informed, dynamic individuals who contribute to create a bright future for agriculture, the environment, and society. The Soil and Water Conservation Society is headquartered in Ankeny, Iowa, with chapters across the United States and Canada.

Meridian Institute builds understanding, guides collaboration, and drives action to address our world’s complex challenges. We are a mission-driven, nonprofit consultancy that has helped our clients and partners develop and implement solutions to complicated, often controversial problems—big and small, global and local—for over two decades.  We do this with an innovative approach that brings together three elements: our deep understanding of the issues at hand, as well as the people, politics, and power dynamics that surround them; our dedicated, expert team; and our ability to foster constructive discussions, manage decisions, and support actions that shape the world for the better. To learn more, visit www.merid.org or follow @MeridOrg on Twitter. 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.