Note from the editor: This blog is the first of a two-part series.
By Laura Demmel
A conversation has been brewing for years on the topic of agricultural sustainability. As consumers care more and more about where their food comes from, the entire food and agriculture industry has responded. From the farm level to the retailer, companies and organizations are assessing how to best measure the sustainability of food and agricultural products produced at every point in the supply chain. Conservation districts have the opportunity to enter into the conversation on the farm and ranch level.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) developed a comprehensive tool for measuring on-farm and ranch sustainability known as the Resource Stewardship Evaluation Tool (RSET). RSET compares a landowner’s operation and activities to science-based stewardship thresholds for five natural resource concerns: soil management, water quality, water quantity, air quality and wildlife habitat. The tool was created in response to the rising consumer demand for knowing how their food is produced and to assist farmers in quantifying and qualifying how they are doing with their land stewardship.
Conservation districts play a role in promoting this innovative, easy-to-use tool as landowners and other customers visit district offices seeking assistance. A Resource Stewardship Evaluation provides the basis for a useful conversation on how to further conservation on their land and begin the planning process. Over time, RSET can also provide a producer a visual, comprehensive picture of how they have improved over the years.
NACD and NRCS are partnering to salute early adopters of RSET. Through the NACD RSET Trailblazers program, forward-thinking producers who have developed and implemented RSET-derived conservation plans receive official letters of recognition signed by their local district board chair and a NRCS district conservationist. State associations and local districts are encouraged to use the recognition letter and press release templates to promote the use of RSET and reward good stewardship. More information on RSET is available here on our webpage.
A Resource Stewardship Evaluation gives both the landowners and conservation planners in district offices the opportunity to build a solid conservation plan. It helps answer the question of how producers are doing in meeting natural resource thresholds and how they are constantly working to improve their land stewardship over time.