Soil health sampling

Innovative partnership with NRCS and Cargrill enables team of Extension associates to engage farmers in water quality improvement practices

Story by Heather Raymond, Ohio State University Water Quality Initiative Director

Across 20 counties within the western Lake Erie basin a new team of Extension water quality associates is partnering with farmers to help advance soil health, reduce nutrient runoff, and improve regional water quality.  The team leads applied on-farm research trials to demonstrate the effects of conservation practices on water quality, soil health, and farm profitability. Results of these field trials are published annually in the Ohio State University’s eFields publication, enabling information to be quickly shared with farmers and ag professionals alike.

Through collaborations with university researchers, Extension associates help bring newer innovations, like manure side-dress toolbars, precision agriculture, and drone-assisted field surveys, to local farmers. They help researchers find farmers interested in participating in applied research trials and help share findings through fact sheets, webinars, and field-based training events.

three pictures of the water quality associates in action

Top left: Brigitte Moneymaker field calibrating a NuLab real-time autonomous nitrogen and phosphorus analyzer. Top right: Rachel Cochran demonstrates controlled drainage during a field day. Bottom: Water quality Extension associates with Wingtra autonomous unmanned vehicle during a field demonstration.

In their first year, these six new associates completed 16 on-farm research trials, conducted soil health sampling on 41 fields in 11 counties, and partnered with multiple researchers on special water quality projects, including establishing water quality monitoring stations and a real-time cloud connected nitrate and phosphorus autoanalyzer at a nutrient impaired drinking water intake.  They completed GIS-based Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) assessments on 79,000 acres and helped establish a statewide data repository and end user visualization tools. The ACPF information is being used to help identify potential sites for placement of structural water quality best management practices.

The team also started a “Water Quality Wednesdays” webinar series, produced water quality videos for the first virtual Farm Science Review, and conducted numerous outreach and engagement events. Through education, outreach, and demonstrations highlighting the benefits of practices the associates hope to encourage widespread conservation practice adoption and sustained practice implementation.

Jordan Beck and Rachel Cochran doing water quality sampling in a nutrient impaired watershed

Jordan Beck and Rachel Cochran collect water quality samples in a nutrient impaired watershed.

The team’s work is part of a broader Water Quality Initiative within the College of Food Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.  The goal of the initiative is to support an integrated program of water‐related research, teaching, and outreach to address current and future water quality issues in Ohio.  Support for the Extension water quality associates is provided through partnerships with USDA-NRCS and Cargill.

If you would like to learn more about the work of the Extension water quality associates please visit:

Information on upcoming free Water Quality Wednesday webinars is available here:

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