Conservation Farm Plans

A conservation farm plan is necessary to participate in the Conservation Program on Agricultural Lands (CPAL). This program is a part of the Whatcom County Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) County Code Title 16.16) . Participation in CPAL allows farmers and ranchers (including hobby farmers) an alternative to the standard regulations of the CAO.

Critical Areas Ordinance
The CAO implements the State’s requirement for the protection of critical areas and their regulated buffers from harmful impacts. The state has identified five (5) environmentally sensitive natural resources areas together referred to as critical areas. The 5 critical areas are critical aquifer recharge areas, frequently flooded areas, geologically hazardous areas, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas (including  streams, ponds, and lakes), and wetlands. Their protection is important for the preservation of our natural environment as well as the protection of our public health and safety. The CAO applies to all development or land use, including agricultural activities, in critical areas and/or their buffers. Buffers of critical areas vary based on sensitivity of the resource. Contact Whatcom County Planning and Development Services or visit our Critical Areas page  for more information.

What is a Conservation Farm Plan?
A conservation farm plan identifies farm operation constraints and provides opportunities to prevent or reduce pollution from agricultural activities through implementation of Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) best management practices (BMPs) . There are three types of conservation farm plans in CPAL: Type 1 standard conservation farm plans (checklist), Type 2 custom conservation farm plans, and Type 3 custom conservation farm plans.

Type 1 standard conservation farm plans are a simplified checklist for operations that are low risk to critical areas. These farms do not exceed one animal unit per acre of grazable pasture. A chart to help you calculate animal units per acre can be found on page 3 of the Standard Conservation Farm Plan Workbook (PDF).

Type 2 custom conservation farm plans are for operations that have a moderate risk to critical areas. These include, but are not limited to, farms that exceed one animal unit per acre of grazable pasture, orchards, vineyards, row crops, and drainage improvement districts.

Type 3 custom conservation farm plans are for operations regulated by state and federal governments. These include dairies and animal feeding operations/concentrated animal feeding operations (AFO/CAFOs). These operations do not need the submittal of a farm plan as they are already regulated. Whatcom County only requires confirmation that a nutrient management plan is being followed.

Benefits of Following a Conservation Farm Plan
  • Allows alternatives to the standard buffers of the CAO
  • Increases efficiency and can save you money
  • Ensures good quality natural resources, such as soil, water, and air.
  • Can make improvements to animal and plant health

Even if you do not have a critical area on your property, you can still benefit from implementing NRCS best management practices! Contact the Whatcom Conservation District  for farm planning assistance. Farms that do not impact critical areas and/or their buffers do not need to file their conservation farm plan at the county.

Think the Conservation Program on Agricultural Lands is right for you? Proceed to our How to Participate page.