Accelerated soil erosion has reduced agricultural production potential, increased production costs and degraded water quality in the North Central Region. This region has been repeatedly implicated as a major contributor to the Northern Gulf of Mexico hypoxia. The connection between soil erosion on agricultural lands and degraded water quality and lost production potential is unquestioned. However, knowledge of how much soil erosion is actually occurring and spatial distribution of soil erosion rates is very limited. Correcting a soil management problem that leads to excessive soil loss is much more likely if soil loss is quantified and/or expressed in ways stake holders understand and recognize and if management alternatives appropriate for the problem are identified.
Water quality and increasingly quantity issues, and processes associated with these issues, cut across nearly all segments of society and concurrently are programming focus areas for various university, agency, non-profit, producer and other groups in the North Central Region. This focus is often being driven by findings such as those from the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force and the resulting state level nutrient strategies that call for 30 to 45% reductions in nutrient loss. Roles of each group differ to some extent, but the ultimate goal consistently is to reduce human, environmental, and economic stress from water quality degradation and from water excess such as that associated with flooding. A relatively new approach to addressing water and water related problems involves watershed community building and connectivity of stakeholders within and even outside the watershed to partner in identifying and addressing water related challenges. One of the weakest points in identifying critical watersheds and efficiently focusing limited resources is lack of reliable information that can be used to identify areas disproportionately impacting water degradation.
Project deliverables include the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) databases for approximately 450 HUC12s in the 28 counties targeted for expansion. ACPF database distribution is currently handled manually through the USDA ARS National Lab for Agriculture and the Environment but an automated distribution process is under development. The DEP website will also be updated with estimates in the HUC12s for which the ACPF has been created and will also have a section on scenario comparisons added. Approximately 40 ACPF and DEP trained professionals from across multiple states will also gain the capacity to use two of the most sophisticated soil and water quality improvement tools available in the North Central Region. ACPF expansion work will be conducted during fall 2015 and winter 2016 with training conducted in late winter/spring 2016.
To further knowledge of the DEP and ACPF we will conduct two, two-day trainings for Extension personnel in water resources and watershed managers. These personnel will be identified by each state’s cooperating partner. This training will require development of training materials for DEP and enable users to better navigate the DEP website and interpret the results contained therein. We will also train the audience in use of the ACPF to suggest best management practices that will help meet each area’s individual water quality goals. ACPF training has already been conducted at locations in Iowa and Minnesota, and similar sessions are part of this project. Training materials for use of DEP and ACPF will also be made available on the DEP website, and training evaluations will be conducted to improve the online materials and any future training sessions. We also plan to conduct evaluations of management changes over time using the DEP/ACPF databases to detect changes in cover crop use and changes in tillage intensity.
This project is well aligned with numerous water-related plans and priorities, such as the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force which recommends a 45% reduction in both nitrogen and phosphorus loadings from the Mississippi/Atchafalya watershed. Similar goals are suggested in the Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin Nutrient Reduction Strategies at the statewide level. Kansas has goals of 30% reduction in both nitrogen and phosphorus. The DEP can effectively identify vulnerable watersheds with high potential for sediment and phosphorus loss and the ACPF can suggest best management practices that limit phosphorus losses as well as nitrogen losses. Making progress in reducing sediment and nutrient losses is also aligned with the first, second, and fourth Grand Challenges of the Association of Public Land Grant Universities. Namely, practices that reduce runoff, soil erosion, and nutrient loss are also beneficial to soil health, thus increasing overall system sustainability, improving water resources by reducing sediment and nutrient loads, and enhancing agriculture by increasing yields over the long term.
Iowa State University
3012 Agronomy Hall