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Agricultural Erosion and Sediment Control Planning Resources

Agricultural Erosion and Sediment Control Planning Resources

By Danielle Rhea and Jen Weld 

Soil erosion is the process of wearing away and moving soil by wind or water. On Pennsylvania farms, rainfall and runoff usually causes erosion; however, on-farm management decisions can accelerate erosion. Accelerated soil erosion results in losing productive topsoil leading to lower crop yields and reduced soil fertility.

Eroded soil, known as sediment, is washed downhill and can end up in local streams and rivers in a process called sedimentation. Once sediment is in a waterbody, it shifts from being a resource to being a pollutant. In fact, sediment is considered the greatest pollutant by volume in Pennsylvania streams. Sediment pollution has serious consequences. It can destroy aquatic habitat, harm recreational and commercial fishing, make filtering drinking water more difficult and expensive, and clog navigable rivers.

To protect against accelerated soil erosion and potential sedimentation, Pennsylvania farms with agricultural land disturbance greater than or equal to 5,000 square feet must develop an Agricultural Erosion and Sediment Control Plan (Ag E&S Plan). Agricultural land disturbance can include plowing, tilling (including no-tilling), and animal heavy use areas. Pennsylvania farms with less than 5,000 square feet of agricultural land disturbance are not required to write an Ag E&S Plan but are expected to use best management practices to protect against accelerated soil erosion (Clean Streams Law 25 Pa. Code § 102.4(a)). ?

An Ag E&S Plan documents a farm's crop rotations, tillage practices, and calculated average annual soil loss across the crop rotation (A value) which should be less than the tolerable soil loss (T value). Implemented and planned best management practices to minimize erosion on all cropland, hayland, pastures, and animal heavy use areas are also included in Ag E&S Plans. For more information about A values and T values refer to Educational Materials, A Values and T Values: What is That All About? 

Planning Tools & Resources

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has developed a fillable template for developing Ag E&S Plans. PAOneStop can also be used to calculate soil loss and generate Ag E&S Plans. Plans may be developed by the farmer or by a consultant. Existing farm conservation plans may meet Ag E&S planning requirements; however, Ag E&S requirements should be reviewed to ensure compliance.

Educational Materials

In addition to the Ag E&S Plan Manual, the following articles provide information about on-farm erosion, management practices that can be used to address erosion, and help with using planning tools.

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