Conservation practices used by farmers in the Midwest are working to reduce runoff from cropland according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report covers the environmental protections installed by landowners in the Upper Mississippi River Basin, which stretches 190,000 square miles.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa Governor, says the findings are significant. The report shows landowners reduced the loss of sediment by nearly 70%, the loss of phosphorous by almost 50% and the loss of nitrogen by around 20%. Pesticide risk to human health, which Vilsack said is “relatively small,” was reduced by 48%.

Vilsack says more work needs to be done to reduce the subsurface loss of nitrogen through drainage systems, but he believes the report shows progress is being made. “I think this is an extremely important validation of what farmers and ranchers have been saying for some time, that they care deeply about the land and natural resources and they are backing that belief with action and that action is making a significant difference in the Upper Mississippi,” Vilsack said.

The report shows about 15% of the cultivated cropland acres in the Midwest still have excessive sediment losses and require additional conservation treatment. Vilsack notes consistent nutrient management systems are generally lacking in the region, posing a risk to rivers and streams.