Once a landowner decides to implement conservation practices on their land, we might think the hard part of our work as conservation advisors is over. But what practices should they implement? And where on their land should they place practices to maximize conservation efficiency and effectiveness? The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) can help answer these questions and more.
The ACPF was developed by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in partnership with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The tool uses high-resolution elevation data and an ArcGIS toolbox to make strategic decisions about how and where to implement agricultural conservation practices. Such practices include terraces or buffer strips on farms to improve water quality in watersheds at the HUC 12 scale. It also provides a menu of conservation options to facilitate conservation discussions with landowners and communities without being prescriptive.
Version 2 of the online ACPF technical training was recently released by the ACPF team, which includes the North Central Region Water Network. This training is designed for individuals with intermediate GIS knowledge and takes users step-by-step through the process of downloading the ACPF toolbox and base data, preparing a digital elevation model or DEM to accurately represent how water flows in the watershed, defining the watershed’s stream network, and running the ecological tools on the chosen watershed. It can be taken at the users own pace and allows them to jump to specific sections or go through the full course from start to finish! New in version 2, users new to ACPF who are interested in taking the full course can now earn up to 7 soil and water management CEUs.
The ACPF is a great tool for watershed planners and farm advisors interested in planning and is currently being used in hundreds of watersheds in states across the Corn Belt and beyond to inform and engage local producers in agricultural conservation. In addition to being used at the field-scale to discuss conservation options with landowners, it has also been used by conservation planners and watershed coordinators to engage landowners in the watershed planning process. It can help determine what sub-watersheds to focus on, which landowners to engage, along with strengthening grant applications by scientifically justifying recommendations and proposals.
The team has also developed trainings for watershed coordinators, NRCS field staff, and conservation district staff who are interested in using the outputs of the ACPF in watershed planning and the implementation of projects. These trainings require no GIS experience as they are designed for individuals who can work with a GIS technician to produce the ACPF output maps and can then use those maps when doing watershed planning and agricultural conservation work. While these trainings are mainly held in person or virtually, portions have been recorded and are available to view on the ACPF website.
To learn more about the ACPF and access the new online technical training visit the team website at acpf4watersheds.org.