Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters Workshop a Great Success

Via The Ohio State University

Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters Initiative

In Columbus, September 14-16, 100 invited participants from 12 states (AR, IL, IN, MD, MI, MN, MS, NC, NE, OH, TN, WI), the District of Columbia, and Canada attended the Healthy Soils for Healthy Waters workshop. There were 42 faculty and 15 graduate students from 15 universities; 24 people from local, state and federal government, 12 farmers and agricultural industry participants, 6 from environmental groups and foundations, and 1 participant from an agricultural journal. The workshop was organized by The Ohio State University, Greenleaf Advisors LLC and with sponsorship from Gypsoil LLC. The focus of the workshop was on reducing and preventing excess nutrient exports associated with crop production systems that are causing hypoxia and harmful algae blooms.

The long term goal of this initiative is to create an integrated science, education, economic, and extension-based framework that results in agricultural producers using adaptive systems management approaches that maintain or enhance productivity and profitability while reducing the nutrient exports that cause adverse water quality impacts such as hypoxia and harmful algal blooms. The Symposium series brings together producers, industry, leading practitioners, scientific researchers, community leaders, agency personnel, and environmental groups who are committed to advancing improved agronomic practices for soil and water health. Specific objectives are to:

  1. Develop practical conceptual solutions at different scales that identify the combination of practices and resources it would take to reduce nutrient exports below target nutrient levels.
  2. Identify what incentives, strategies, tools, knowledge, and outreach education would be needed to implement the proposed conceptual solutions.
  3. Identify the time frame and cost associated with meeting the water quality objectives.
  4. Identify the transferability of the conceptual solutions to other watersheds in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins.
  5. Identify knowledge, technology, and education gaps.
  6. Consider how climate change and a potential need to increase productivity might influence these water quality strategies and water use for multiple purposes including agriculture.
  7. Build frameworks where different organizations and different disciplines work better together, and with producers and industry, to more effectively solve problems associated with nutrient impacts on water resources.

The innovative approach of the HSHW Initiative is to have interdisciplinary teams develop conceptual solutions at field and watershed scales for real world case studies with the target regions. A tenet of this approach is farmer involvement in developing the solutions and the identification of the infrastructure and resource needs to meet nutrient reduction goals for the case studies. At the workshop overviews of 15 potential case studies (10 in the Mississippi River Basin and 5 in the Lake Erie Region) were presented and used as a platform for discussion in small breakout groups.

In addition to breakout group discussions there were short presentations that provided knowledge on the challenge and potential best management practices.
A common voice was that:

  • The problem needs to be solved as food, water, energy and the environment are all important.
  • Solutions should be site specific.
  • These are complex systems that require a systems approach to formulate solutions.
  • Farmers must be involved in developing the solutions.
  • Approaches need to sustain agricultural productivity and economic viability.
  • The performance of different agricultural and conservation practice is very variable so improved knowledge and outreach education is needed on where practices do or do not work.
  • More soil testing and edge-of-field monitoring is needed to identify fields that have excess nutrient loads or are not a problem.

The participants will reconvene at a symposium next May to present results from more than a dozen case studies where stakeholder teams that include scientists and farmers have determined what it will take, at field to watershed scales, to meet water quality targets. The May symposium will be open to the public. In conjunction with the symposium there will be a meeting of the Federal Hypoxia Task Force and a new Land Grant University Hypoxia Initiative that will assist the Federal Hypoxia Task Force.
Andy Ward,