Agricultural Conservation

The Agricultural Conservation Program connects the agricultural community with local technical and educational service providers.

ACCD provides resources and guidance to farmers in the following areas.

Soil Conservation Techniques

Understanding the principles and benefits of soil health has the potential to change perspectives and understanding of land stewardship. Farmers can do more than just maintain their land. They can achieve higher levels of productivity with less reliance on outside inputs.  

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), soil health can change the land.  

  • Supplying plant roots with water, air, and nutrients with minimal inputs 
  • Water storage and infiltrating rainwater 
  • Carbon cycling and decomposition of organic "waste" 
  • Supporting a biodiverse network of insects, bacteria, fungi and animals 

Reduced Tillage

Reduced tillage practices minimize soil disturbance and allow crop residue to remain on the ground instead of being thrown away or incorporated into the soil. These practices are recommended to reduce soil erosion, increase soil productivity and reduce production costs.

Conservation tillage is any method of soil cultivation that leaves the previous year's crop residue (such as corn stalks or wheat stubble) on fields before and after planting the next crop, to reduce soil erosion and runoff. To provide these conservation benefits, a percentage (generally 30 to 70 percent) of the soil surface must be covered with residue after planting the next crop.
The soil is left undisturbed between crop harvest and planting of the next crop except for: 
  • Disturbance within the crop row caused by the planter 
  • Disturbance outside of the crop row caused by the placement of nutrients into the soil. 
  • The total area of soil surface disturbed by all planting and nutrient placement activities may not exceed 30 percent. 

Cover Crops

Cover crops have the potential to provide multiple benefits in a cropping system such as: preventing erosion, improving soil conditions, supplying nutrients, suppressing weeds, improving the availability of water and breaking pest cycles. 

Importantly, the species of cover crop selected, along with its management, determine the benefits and returns. 

Farm Planning

Farm planning assists farmers in achieving their goals, while at the same time improving the environment.  

 In 2010, the PA Chapter 102 regulations addressing Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Management were updated and implemented. These changes also affect agricultural planning efforts and animal use areas. All farms are now required to develop, implement and maintain a written plan to reduce soil erosion when plowing and tilling. While Chapter 102 has always stated that plowing and tilling needed a plan, now Animal Heavy Use Areas (AHUAs) must be covered by a conservation plan.
Nutrient Management Plans document crop nutrient needs, soil test results and application of all nutrients (including manure) to the fields. Manure Management Plans are required for all livestock owners and those applying manure on crop fields. Manure Management Plans identify application rates for each crop group, manure application setbacks from environmentally sensitive areas, and requirements for winter application.  

Learn More
Conservation Plans are documents that outline the methods a farmer has incorporated to protect and enhance the natural resources on their land. Conservation Plans are written by a certified Conservation Planner. In this region, NRCS provides this service.

Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture is a growing area of farming and gardening opportunities in Allegheny County. Urban agriculture can look like raised beds, full-sized city lots, community gardens, school gardens and more.

Urban agriculture improves soil, enhances sustainability, preserves greenspace, creates areas for community engagement, improves local food security, as well as recreation. ACCD works with partners to bring urban agriculture to municipalities in Allegheny County in several ways. 

This guide created in combination with our food system partners and the Pitt Institute of Politics offers model language that can be incorporated into municipal code to create more agriculture-friendly zoning. 

ACCD conducts independent research projects that seek to explore a range of topics in urban agriculture. These have included soil surveys, pollinator gardens, cover cropping, assisting in policy development, and advocacy for urban farming. 
ACCD works with programs such as the City of Pittsburgh’s Adopt-A-Lot Program to provide heavy metals testing for urban soils. ACCD works closely with Penn State Extension and often utilizes their soil fertility testing resources through the Penn State Agriculture Analytics Lab. 
ACCD works with urban farms and gardens around the Allegheny County by helping to connect these projects to resources and technical information. Some ACCD partners include: 

Get Farm Assistance

Submit a question about ACCD’s Agriculture and Soils Program, including Farmland Preservation, Urban Soils and Livestock Compliance and Regulations.