Conservation Practices

Table Of Contents

Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans
Manure Management
Field Conservation Practices
Technical and Financial Assistance

Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans

A Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) is a conservation plan for owners/operators of animal feeding operations. The objective of a CNMP is to manage manure and organic by-products by combining conservation practices and management activities into a conservation system that, when implemented, will control soil erosion.

Run off from agricultureThe Watershed Project focuses on the field conservation practices that are part of a complete CNMP. While we recommend that a farm develop a CNMP for its operation, we recognize that this can be a long planning process. We encourage farmers to learn more about these field practices and implement them as appropriate, as one step toward eventually having a CNMP.

This requires that farmers evaluate their fields and answer:

Where does the run-off go?
Do I have gullies forming?
Is soil leaving the field during the rain and entering the stream?

These issues can be addressed by some of the practices described below. Most farms could benefit by installing one of more of these field conservation practices.

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Manure Management

Livestock operations can generate lots of manure. When managed properly, it becomes both an asset to the farm and the environment, lessening the amount of commercial fertilizers that are required. However, the quality of the surrounding surface water is directly linked to properly managing the manure, especially during the application process.

Manure contributes many nutrients including phosphorus to the land and to the water once it enters a drain or stream.Proper manure management encompasses all stages from production, collection, storage, transfer, and finally utilization. Proper manure management is vital to the quality of the water and the health of the watershed. More information about manure management is available from your local Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) Agent or consultant. The MSUE website has additional information on manure management.

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Field Conservation Practices

There are numerous ways to help control the impact of runoff from agricultural fields.  These include filter strips, grassed waterways, cover crops, conservation tillage/crop residue management, and water and sediment control structures.

Filter Strips

Filter strip adjacent to a flooded drain

Filter strips are areas of permanent vegetation used to trap and prevent sediment, nutrients, pesticides, and other contaminants from entering surface water. Filter strips are generally installed along the edges of streams, drains, wetlands, or other bodies of water. Filter strips not only have a place on the farm, but along water bodies in urban, commercial and industrial areas too.

Grassed Waterways

Grassed waterway

Grassed waterway


A grassed waterway is a vegetated channel designed to convey runoff from a field without causing soil erosion or flooding. A grassed waterway is used in an area of concentrated flow where field runoff naturally flows due to the topography of the field. Grassed waterways work best when combined with filter strips and conservation tillage to prevent soil from entering the waterway.

Cover Crops

radishCover crops are a any of a variety of plants, planted into or after a cash crop for several reasons. Cover crops are primarily used to control erosion by water and wind, by creating an organic mulch layer that prevents soil loss.  Fields under cover also experience improved aeration and water infiltration by breaking up compression and having an improved organic layer in the soil.  Cover crops also recycle nutrients that would be lost through leaching or erosion, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and other micro-nutrients thus reducing the need of chemical fertilizers for cash crops.

Conservation Tillage

Crop residue

Crop residue

Crop residue management is an umbrella term encompassing several tillage systems, including no-till, ridge-till, mulch-till, reduced tillage, and vertical tillage.

Residue management includes any tillage and planting system that covers 30 percent or more of the soil surface with crop residue after planting to reduce soil erosion by water. Conservation tillage systems offer numerous benefits that intensive or conventional tillage simply can’t match. It reduces labor and saves time, fuel and reduces machinery wear. It improves soil tilth (physical ability to support plant growth), increases organic matter (good as a nutrient source and improves soil moisture holding capacity), and reduces evaporation to improve water availability. Most important, it reduces soil erosion. Depending on the amount of residues present, soil erosion can be reduced by up to 90% compared to an unprotected, traditionally tilled field.

Water and Sediment Control Structures

Water and sediment control structures consist of an earth embankment or a ridge and channel constructed across a slope and waterway to form a sediment trap and water detention basin. These help reduce gully erosion, trap sediment in the water, and reduce downstream flooding. Water and sediment control structures should be used with a combination of other practices designed to prevent soil erosion. Water and sediment control structures require engineering design before implementation.

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Technical and Financial Assistance

The MACC employs an Agricultural Technician, Rob Vink, that is available to provide one-on-one consultations and recommendations for conservation practices for farmers within the Macatawa Watershed. The MACC may also have financial assistance available through grants. Check the Current Programs page for more information.

Technical assistance, and possibly financial, is also available from the following organizations:

Ottawa Conservation District
16731 Ferris St
Grand Haven MI 49417
616-846-8770 x5

Allegan Conservation District
1668 Lincoln Rd
Allegan MI 49010
269-673-6940 x5

Ottawa County MSU Extension
12220 Fillmore St, Suite 122
West Olive MI 49460

Allegan County MSU Extension
3255 122nd Ave, Suite 103
Allegan MI 49010

Natural Resources Conservation Service
Grand Haven Service Center (housed with Conservation District): 616-842-5869
Allegan Service Center (housed with Conservation District): 269-673-8903

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