This May federal conservation officials will begin a statewide effort to conduct conservation compliance reviews using aerial photography, said Richard Sims, state conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Des Moines.

After piloting a similar project last year in western Iowa, NRCS officials expanded the project to all tracts randomly selected for annual conservation compliance reviews across most of the state.

According to NRCS, last year’s pilot project included 635 sites in 40 counties. This year officials estimate 1,620 sites will be reviewed in about 90 counties. NRCS will send letters to all landowners with randomly selected sites before flights begin, said Sims.

Instead of staff taking photographs, this year NRCS will contract to use special planes equipped with GPS-synched, high-resolution cameras attached to the belly of the craft.

If this year’s photography shows no signs of compliance issues, NRCS will notify landowners shortly after photos and plans are reviewed. If photography reveals potential issues, a conservation compliance team member will conduct a full-field review, using documentation from the landowner’s conservation plan. The field review will include, at minimum, a check for residue levels and ephemeral gully erosion. Landowners may request to be present during on-site reviews, said Adkins.

NRCS will be using conservation compliance teams to ensure no employee will complete a status review for land in their home county, said Adkins. These area-based teams will also conduct on-the-ground compliance reviews on tracts with variances from previous years, whistleblowers, loan participants, and others.

When tracts are found out of compliance, the team leader will send letters to participants no later than July 13, said Marty Adkins, state resource conservationist. Landowners may appeal the initial technical finding to the Farm Service Agency.

The 1985 Farm Bill requires NRCS to check a random sampling of highly erodible fields each year to ensure farmers are following the provisions in their conservation plans.

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