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New Free Tool Available to Iowa Farmers to Improve Conservation

By Leah Ellensohn
Iowa farmers and ranchers interested in improving their working lands conservation efforts—and thereby improving topsoil and nutrient retention, as well as safeguarding Iowa’s waterways—have a new, free tool available to them through National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The Resource Stewardship Evaluation Tool (RSET) modernizes conservation planning and helps farmers and ranchers better identify their conservation goals. After a quick RSET evaluation, participants receive easy to read results. They can take to their local NRCS office to discuss which practices will best help them improve their soil health and reduce runoff. After implementing these practices, RSET can continue to evaluate how they are working for the participant’s operation.
Aaron Lehman, a fifth-generation family farmer in Polk County, was one of the first farmers in Iowa to test the tool, and was impressed with the process. “It was very easy to take a snapshot of our farm from a conservation standpoint,” said Lehman. “From there we could evaluate the potential benefits of additional conservation practices on that individual field. It takes a lot of guesswork out of conservation planning.”
Lehman noted that he is anxious to go through the process on additional fields and talk over the results with the rest of his family in order to decide what practices would work for them. “Each field is different and that is what makes this process really special,” he said. “The tool looks at the unique qualities of each field.”
Lehman added that the confidentiality of the information that goes into the tool and comes out of it is important. “We can make the best decisions for our farm without worrying where the information is going. It stays with us on our farm,” he said.
About the Evaluation
Leah Ellensohn, an Iowa State University graduate and the Resource Stewardship Outreach Specialist at NFU, leads the RSET project in Iowa. When a farmer enrolls in RSET, Leah meets the participant on his or her farm. The farm-specific information is entered into RSET, and the farmer receives a resulting “score,” to see how the farm compares to county thresholds. This information is completely confidential, and will not be used for anything outside of the farm evaluation.
Once the evaluation is complete, the farmer receives easy-to-read results. These can be taken to the local NRCS office and used to inform what conservation practices and tools will work best for the farm. And the tool can continue to be used after implementation of specific practices to see how well they are working for the farm and the environment.
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