When it rains, animal waste, fertilizer, pesticides, and topsoil are washed into tributaries and rivers, and eventually out to sea, harming wildlife, disrupting the balance of nutrients in the ocean, and causing dead zones (areas with excess nutrients that lead to the die-off of marine life, including plants, mammals, fish, and invertebrates, etc.) and toxic algae blooms each spring and summer.
The average size of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico over the past five years has been 5,400 square miles--bigger than the state of Connecticut.
The Ocean-Friendly Farming (OFF) program is a collaboration between the Inland Ocean Coalition, landowners, farmers, and ranchers to support the health of our watersheds, ocean, and climate by recognizing landowners who use ocean-friendly land practices.
This collaboration's overarching goal is to support those who practice ecological farming methods that prevent agricultural pollutants from making their way into our waterways and inevitably our ocean.
The OFF program aims to educate the public about the impacts of agricultural and rangeland practices on the health of our watersheds and ocean, create a community of ocean-friendly farmers, be a resource for those wanting to learn about ocean-friendly land practices, and be an ally for those seeking to lead the agricultural movement that promotes conservation practices.
“It is not possible to add pesticides to water anywhere without threatening the purity of water everywhere.” -Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
What is Conservation Agriculture?
Conservation agriculture is the practice of enhancing biodiversity and natural biological processes in order to increase water and nutrient use efficiency and to improve and sustain crop production. This type of agriculture promotes various practices, including minimum or no-tillage, diversified crop rotations, and cover crops.
Conservation agriculture is built on three main practices:
- Minimum mechanical soil disturbance: (i.e. no tillage) through direct seed and/or fertilizer placement
- Permanent soil organic cover: (at least 30%) with crop residues and/or cover crops
- Species diversification: through varied crop sequences and associations involving at least three different crops
These and other types of conservation practices help prevent runoff of nutrient and chemical pollution. The list of farming and land practices that qualify as conservation practices is expansive and can be found from various resources, including the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and in our Ocean-Friendly Land Practices.
Why is Conservation Agriculture Important for Ocean Health?
Conservation agriculture focuses on soil health as a method for improving agricultural productivity without harming the environment. When the soil is healthy, crops are able to absorb more nutrients (making them healthier for us) and require less irrigation and fertilizer. Preventing loss of nutrients in the soil and the decreased need for fertilizers and pesticides also helps reduce the amount of polluted runoff entering our inland waterways and traveling down to our ocean. Ocean-friendly conservation practices protect ocean health by improving soil health, protecting water quality, and protecting ecosystem health.
To learn more about why soil health and agricultural practices are important for the health of our ocean, see the Soil Health and Watershed Issues tabs under our Watershed Health Program page.
What Makes an Ocean-Friendly Farmer?
To be recognized as an ocean-friendly farmer, landowners, farmers, and ranchers must practice any combination of conservation practices that directly or indirectly benefit our ocean. Because of regional differences and diverse requirements for ecological land practices, a definitive list of the proper land practices is unrealistic. Instead, our program focuses on supporting landowners, farmers, and ranchers who have a land-first, ocean-first mindset.
Become an Ocean-Friendly Farmer
Ocean-friendly farmers are an important part of supporting the conservation agriculture movement and protecting the ocean against conventional agricultural practices. To support ocean-friendly landowners, farmers, and ranchers, the Inland Ocean Coalition endorses these farmers and their products through promotion on our website, in our newsletter, and on our social media platforms. We are also building a community of ocean-friendly landowners, farmers, and ranchers as a resource and networking tool for farmers wanting to expand their ocean-friendly practices or learn from each other.
Do your farming practices support healthy watersheds? Fill out our application to join the movement and our community of ocean-friendly landowners, farmers, and ranchers!
Ocean-Friendly Land Practices
Below is a list of practices landowners, farmers, and ranchers use that protect our watersheds and ocean. This list is not all-inclusive and is continuously updated to include the best science-supported practices. Landowners are welcomed to apply to become a part of the Ocean-Friendly Farming program if they use any of the practices below or practices that they consider ocean-friendly but are not found on this list.
For a practice to be considered ocean-friendly, it must have an identifiable direct or indirect benefit to protecting watershed or ocean health. Ways in which these best practices can protect watersheds and the ocean include water quality control, pollution reduction, and watershed restoration.
This list is categorized by the benefits generated by the conservation practice. Each practice benefits our ocean, even if it isn’t clearly identified as doing so.
- Most soil health-focused practices: Soil health is one of the most important components for protecting watershed and ocean health. Many practices used to improve or protect soil health can be considered ocean-friendly practices. If a landowner intentionally improves their soil health with identifiable practices not listed in this document, their practices may still qualify them to join our program's community of ocean-friendly farmers.
- Cover crops: cover crops help landowners keep their land covered as much as possible and are primarily planted on soil that would normally be bare following a cash crop’s harvesting season; their primary role is to improve soil health, but they also impact water quality, pollution runoff, and soil erosion.
- High residue cover crop or mixture or high residue cover crops for weed suppression and soil health (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 7)
- Use of cover crop mixes (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 7)
- Cover cropping in orchards, vineyards, and other woody perennial horticulture crops (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 10)
- Intensive cover cropping in annual crops (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 10)
- Use of non-chemical methods to kill cover crops (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 13)
- Plant a cover crop that will scavenge residual nitrogen -cover crops such as cereal rye are used to scavenge any nitrogen left behind from a harvested crop; this practice assists with nitrogen management and soil health
- No tilling or strip-tilling -the practice of planting crops with minimal disturbance of the earth for the protection of soil health and prevention of soil erosion
- Roller Crimping
- Residue and tillage management, no-till/strip-till/direct seed (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 18)
- Residue and tillage management, mulch till (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 18)
- Diversified crop system -a scalable resource-conserving crop rotation that typically hosts 4-7 species of profitable crops
- Resource-conserving crop rotation (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 15
- Diversity across the entire farm is beneficial
- High species diversity grazing lands (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 10)
- Intercropping to improve soil quality and increase biodiversity -the practice of using intercropping principles to promote interactions that improve soil and water quality and contribute to pest management from the increase in biodiversity (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 9)
- Transition to ORGANIC cropping systems -the practice of transitioning away from conventional cropping to an organic system that includes management activities to improve water and soil quality in an “Organic System Plan (OSP)” that adheres to the National Organic Program criteria. Criteria include specifics on pest and weed management, fertilizers, and cover crops. (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 12)
- Organic, no-till farming -Organic agriculture relies on non-chemical ways of maintaining fertility, managing pests and controlling weeds, eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides; when combined with the practice of no-tilling, organic agriculture becomes an asset to soil health and ocean protection
- Rotational (managed) grazing -known by many names, this is the practice of intentionally rotating the feeding grounds of livestock to avoid overconsuming vegetation and degrading the soil health
- Also known as pasturing, management-intensive rotational grazing, grazing management, & prescriptive grazing (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 2, 3, 6, 7, & 20)
- Transition to organic grazing systems -the practice of transitioning away from conventional livestock grazing to an organic system that follows ecological and pasture-based grazing requirements, applying materials according to the National Life of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Natural Substances rule for organic certification (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 11)
- Other types of managed grazing
- Use of deep-rooted crops to break up soil compaction -the use of deep-rooted crops breaks of compacted soil, improving its portability and overall quality (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 9)
- Placement of hay feeding areas on low fertility soils -the practice of unrolling hay on infertile soil for feeding; the practice allows biowaste from livestock to gradually improve soil quality and its ability to filter nutrients and pollutants more effectively (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 10)
- Mulching -the application of plant residue or other materials to the land surface for soil health improvement (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 19)
- Range planting -the use of perennial vegetation to establish a function range ecology (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 20)
- Extend or create filter strips or riparian herbaceous cover -these strips and cover areas help protect water quality and wildlife habitat (2015 Activity List, pg. 2)
- Extend or create existing field borders for water quality protection and wildlife habitat (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 3)
- Field border (201 CSP Activity List, pg. 19)
- Filter strip (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 19)
- Manage livestock access to water bodies to reduce nutrients or pathogens to surface water -structures and practices that limit livestock access to water bodies reduce nutrient loading and the introduction of pathogens into surface waters
- Cropland conversion to trees or shrubs for long term improvement of water quality -trees and shrubs provide long-term erosion control and protect the local water quality by improving the soil integrity, controlling runoff, and trapping sediment
- Reduced pesticide usage -limited and selective use of pesticide chemicals to minimize impacts on water and food quality
- EPA tips for reducing pesticide impacts on wildlife
- High-level integrated pest management (IPM) (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 13)
- Also, see Integrated Pest Management Principles
- Use drift reducing nozzles, low pressure, lower boom height, and adjuvants to reduce pesticide drift (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 1)
- GPS, targeted spray application, or other chemical application electronic control technology for chemical spraying of pesticides (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 1)
- Non-chemical pest management for livestock (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 11)
- Drainage water management for the nutrient, pathogen, or pesticide reduction (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 12)
- Biological suppression and other non-chemical techniques to manage brush, herbaceous weeds, and invasive species (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 13)
- Reduced chemical fertilizer use -limited and selective use of chemical fertilizers to minimize impacts on water, soil, and food quality
- Precision application technology to apply nutrients (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 11)
- Advanced nutrient management -soil-level elements essential for plant growth are used as efficiently as possible to improve productivity while protecting the environment from over leaching into groundwater or nearby surface waters
- Conservation cover -similar to cover crops, this practice uses vegetative cover in the form of perennials to build and protect soil integrity and water resources on land retired from agricultural production
- Habitat restoration -the practice of restoring and protecting the natural ecosystem surrounding our working lands
- Prairie restoration for grazing and wildlife habitat (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 2)
- Restoration and management of rare and declining habitats (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 20)
- Critical area planting (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 18)
- Forest stand improvement -when improved, the creation of snags, den trees, and other structures enhance the natural wildlife habitat, encouraging biodiversity and improving soil quality (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 3)
- Control of undesirable woody vegetation in moist soil wetlands for wildlife -this practice encourages the growth of native grasses and desirable vegetation, enhancing the natural wildlife and improving soil quality (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 4)
- Stream habitat improvement/management -the improvement, maintenance, or restoration of the physical, chemical, and/or biological functions of a stream and its riparian zone to meet the survival requirements for the aquatic ecosystem (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 19)
- Establish and maintain early successional, naturally occurring vegetation in ditches and ditch bank borders for wildlife habitat and water quality protection -this practice encourages early successional, naturally occurring vegetation in these areas, providing cover habitat for visiting wildlife as well as filters overland flow, improving water quality (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 4)
- Agroforestry -the integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits
- Alley cropping -planting crops between rows of trees
- Forest farming -the growing of food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under a forest canopy (aka multi-story cropping)
- Riparian forest buffers -natural (or restored) areas along rivers and streams made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses
- Riparian herbaceous cover -a riparian buffer built from grasses, forbes, and grass-like plants that are tolerant of intermittent flooding or saturated soils (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 19)
- Riparian forest buffer -a buffer built predominantly from trees and/or shrubs that are tolerant of intermittent flooding or saturated soils (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 19)
- Silvopasture -the combination of trees, livestock and their forage on one land to create a beneficial exchange of food, shelter, and fertilizer
- Windbreaks -structures that protect natural habitats and crops from wind, snow, dust, and rain
- Windbreak/shelterbelt establishment or renovation -single, or multiple rows of trees/shrubs in linear configurations to reduce surface wind speeds to minimize wind erosion, manage snow deposition, and reduce pesticide spray drift (2015 CSP Activity List, pg. 19)
The Ocean-Friendly Farmers Community
Our Ocean-Friendly Farmers Community is made up of farmers and ranchers from across the nation who use practices that have a positive impact on the health of the ocean and local watersheds. The Community shares these farmers' stories, endorses their hard work and encourages inter-community engagement for resource and support exchange. We encourage our IOC community to support these farmers by sharing their stories, volunteering with them, purchasing their products, and more!
If you use farming practices that support a healthy ocean, apply here to become a part of our growing community and have your story shared on our website, social media, and in our network!