A software tool that finds locations for water quality devices will work in the northeast



UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– A software package widely used in the Midwest to strategically position riparian buffers and other structures to protect water quality on farmland can be used effectively in the eastern United States, with some limitations, Penn State researchers report in a new study.

The Agriculture Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) applies high-resolution soil maps and topographic data, now available for many parts of the United States, to show the locations for the placement of conservation devices that provide the greatest benefits in agricultural watersheds. The geospatial tool was developed in Iowa and has also been used successfully in Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

However, most water quality protection devices can be used in the drainage of Chesapeake Bay and other northeastern watersheds, according to the study’s lead author. Jonathan duncan, assistant professor of hydrology, College of Agricultural Sciences. Calling the framework “high-precision conservation,” he suggested that its application to watersheds in the eastern United States represents both an opportunity and a challenge for conservation planning.

This study graphic contrasts the watershed planning maps of the traditional expert assessment (left) and the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) assessment of row cropping practices in the water and sediment control basins and grassed waterways for a small watershed in the Susquehanna River Basin.

“In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we’ve found that best management practices don’t always work, and one reason could be that they attack the wrong parts of the landscape,” Duncan said. “This ACPF tool helps solve this problem and can identify potential locations for positioning the good practice in the right spot to improve the water quality of Chesapeake Bay.”

However, he stressed, the ACPF must be adjusted for the differences between the landscape of Pennsylvania and that of the Midwest.

The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework is used as an agricultural watershed management tool by identifying site-specific opportunities to install conservation practices in small watersheds. The approach provides a menu of conservation options such as riparian buffers, grassed waterways, filter strips, wetlands and impoundments on farms.

The framework is used in conjunction with local knowledge of water and soil resources, landscape features and producer conservation preferences to provide a better understanding of the options available in developing watershed conservation plans, a Duncan pointed out. The concept of ACPF focuses on soil conservation as the foundation of agricultural watershed management.

muddy stream

The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework provides a menu of conservation options such as riparian buffers (shown here), grassed waterways, filter strips, wetlands, and impoundments on farms.

IMAGE: GettyImages 4 loops

To determine if ACPF would work in the northeast, the researchers analyzed the tool’s application in eight watersheds in the eastern United States, from Vermont to North Carolina. They assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the ACPF and analyzed the opportunities and threats resulting from the use of the tool in the East.

In results published today (September 14) in Agricultural & Environmental Letters, researchers reported that there are many potential locations where ACPF can be used in the East, but its applicability is not universal. Understanding its limitations is necessary to avoid the potential for inappropriate application and ensure proper adaptation, they warned.

Among the potential limitations to the successful application of ACPF outside of its original context, some of its conservation practices are impractical in eastern agricultural settings. For example, researchers noted that field sizes in the East are so small that water and sediment control ponds and nutrient removal wetlands are often too intrusive to be recommended.

“We see a future for ACPF in the northeast, and in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in particular,” Duncan said. “But the adoption and usefulness of the tool requires interaction with scientists and conservation planners familiar with the region to avoid misapplication. Open communications with stakeholders and local partners will help set realistic expectations for the tool.

large farm pond

One of the limitations of using ACPF in the drainage of Chesapeake Bay is that some of its conservation practices are impractical in eastern agricultural settings. For example, researchers noted that the size of the Eastern Fields is so small that water and sediment control basins (like the one pictured) and nutrient removal wetlands are often too intrusive to use. be recommended.

IMAGE: Lynda Richardson, USDA NRCS

The ACPF framework identifies locations where specific landscape attributes are favorable for the implementation of certain conservation practices and includes methods to help prioritize these locations based on their sensitivity to runoff and erosion, Duncan explained. . He added that much of the agricultural pollution problem in the northeast comes from a very small part of the landscape.

“If ACPF can identify the best locations to install conservation structures, that’s better than what we’ve done so far,” he said. “It’s not like pixie dust – you can’t just spread best management practices across the landscape and make them work like magic. We know they need to be placed in the right places. But at the same time, we don’t know every location in every watershed – so this is where this tool can come in really handy. ”

Matthew Royer, director of the Center for Agriculture and the Environment at the College of Agricultural Sciences, and William Ryan, a master’s student in soil science, also participated in this research at Penn State. Other members of the research team were Zachary Respess, extension associate at North Carolina State University, former masters student in Duncan’s research group at Penn State; Rob Austin and Deanna Osmond, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, North Carolina State University; and Peter Kleinman, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

The Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture funded the research through its Conservation Effects Assessment Program.


Researcher Zach Respess surveying a riparian area and creek in central Pennsylvania.

IMAGE: Jonathan Duncan / State of Pennsylvania



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