A grassy field.
Prairie Strips These prairie strips were planted next to a corn crop for erosion control in a field near Prairie City, Iowa. © Lynn Betts, NRCS-SWCS

Food & Water Stories

Edge of Field Practices in Agriculture

A whole-systems approach to achieving a regenerative agriculture system.

Webinar: Leading at the Edge

Advancing Edge of Field Practices: Friday, February 5, 2021 11 a.m. to noon ET

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Farmers care deeply for the lands and waters that sustain their livelihoods and provide a wealth of benefits for all of us. Unfortunately, common agriculture practices inadvertently contribute to significant environmental impacts. For instance, runoff of excess nutrients—like phosphorus and nitrogen—from farm fields degrades the health of waterways, posing a threat to wildlife and drinking water.

Farmers hold the key to helping solve this and other environmental challenges.

Science tells us that moving toward a regenerative agriculture system by improving nutrient management and rebuilding soil health in farm fields can deliver dramatic benefits for farmers—and improve environmental outcomes. Research also tells us that tackling the nutrient loss challenge in the field is not enough. We need to improve conservation opportunities at the edges of the farm fields, too.

Farmers across the United States have successfully installed a variety of edge of field practices to better manage water and filter nutrients and sediments in runoff from the fields. They have seen the benefits firsthand.

Here are typical examples: 

Edge of Field Practices

  • Stream running through vegetated banks.

    Vegetated Buffer

    A vegetated buffer provides a transition zone between the crop field and a water feature. Vegetation in the buffer slows surface runoff, filters pollutants and reduces erosion. Examples include filter strips, field borders and riparian buffers. More on vegetated buffers.

  • Grassy strip running through farm field.

    Grassed Waterway

    A grassed waterway is an erosion control practice that provides a stabilized flow path for water through a farm field. More on grassed waterways.

  • Alternating grass bands in a farm field.

    Prairie Strips

    Prairie strips integrated with or planted at the edge of crop fields reduce nutrient and sediment loss while benefitting birds, pollinators and other wildlife. More on prairie strips.

  • A constructed wetland with grass in the foreground.

    Constructed Wetland

    A constructed wetland is an engineered ecosystem designed to optimize specific wetland characteristics and functions to improve water quality. Constructed wetlands can be designed to treat surface and/or subsurface flows. More about constructed wetlands.

  • Aerial shot of a grassy area along a creek.

    Saturated Buffer

    A saturated buffer resembles a traditional buffer, but it is designed to capture and treat water from underground tile drains. As water seeps slowly through the buffer, high organic matter in the soil promotes denitrification. More about saturated buffers.

  • Aerial view of two-stage ditch.

    Two-Stage Ditch

    A two-stage ditch is trapezoidal drainage ditch with added floodplain benches that slow water flow and promote sediment and nutrient retention and bank stability. More on two-stage ditches.

Many of the photos on this page came from the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s Conservation Media Library, a multimedia resource for images, videos, factsheets and other resources. The Library is open to all, and the materials can be downloaded and circulated free of charge. SWCS is a close TNC partner in our work to expand the use of edge of field practices on U.S. farmland.