Agricultural BMPs

Agricultural best management practices (BMPs) are changes in agricultural land management that can be channeled towards achieving multiple positive environmental outcomes.

Agricultural best management practices are most effective when implemented as an integrated system across a watershed © Natural Resource Conservation Service

Key Ideas

  • There are different types of agricultural best management practices

    A wide variety of agricultural BMPs exist to meet environmental goals, including practices such as cover crops, conservation tillage, irrigation efficiency, contour farming, and agroforestry. Many of these practices are most effective when implemented in concert with one another; no agricultural BMP is a silver bullet. They work best as an integrated system, when multiple conservation practices are joined with a farmer’s agricultural system to meet both production and conservation goals. In the context of existing water funds, agricultural BMPs are primarily in reference to modifying land management practices on croplands, specifically those focused on reducing erosion and nutrient runoff. These practices can help to directly protect drinking supplies, as well as help to protect other uses such as recreation, animal habitat, fisheries, and agricultural uses such as irrigation and stock watering.

  • Issues resulting from agricultural practices are context specific

    The amount of water use, erosion, and nutrient loadings that may result from agricultural practices is very context specific. Factors such as the location, climate, type of crops grown, type and amount of fertilizer applied, local cropping practices, type of irrigation systems, and institutional constraints are a few of the drivers that will determine the overall impact of agriculture in a given geography. Using tools and guidelines, agricultural land managers can design practices to be most effective at meeting their goals based on these site-specific conditions. For example, tools can help managers design riparian forest buffers that improve water quality adjacent to agricultural lands based on the slope, cropping type, and soils of that adjacent crop land. Other agricultural best management practices can be designed to benefit both agricultural and environmental goals on a particular site. Rows of trees can be planted in windbreaks that can enhance irrigation efficiency by reducing wind speeds while also providing reducing soil erosion and enhancing crop yield.

  • Agricultural BMPs must be carefully designed to be effective

    To be effective, agricultural BMPs must be carefully designed to achieve both environmental and production outcomes. Poorly designed practices may not be as effective at meeting environmental goals, even when implemented. If they are not designed to integrate with the existing agricultural system, the farmer may stop using the practice as soon as contracts or other requirements are lifted. Demonstration sites, as well as other outreach efforts such as farmer tours, are often helpful in identifying design challenges and enhancing farmer adoption of agricultural best management practices.

Learn more

  1. US Environmental Protection Agency

    Agricultural Management Practices for Water Quality Protection:

    Learn more
  2. US Department of Agriculture

    Natural Resources Conservation Science – Conservation Practices (Technical Guides)

    US Department of Agriculture
  3. US Department of Agriculture

    National Agroforestry Center: Water Quality. Also see Trees Protecting Organic Crops and Agroforestry Riparian Buffers.

    Learn more

Windbreaks can be used to enhance irrigation efficiency and improve crop yields.© USDA