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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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2004 Annual Performance Report
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1 - Introduction
2 - Table of Contents
3 - Goals 1 and 2
4 - Goal 3
5 - Goal 4
6 - Goal 5
7 - Goal 6
Goal 5

GOAL 5:  PROTECT AND ENHANCE THE NATION’S NATURAL RESOURCE BASE AND ENVIRONMENT

 

Analysis of Results:  This goal focuses on a wide range of environmental issues related to agriculture.  Under Goal 5, 14 Indicators are aligned under 7 Performance Measures.  As the National Programs evolve, the Agency will report more accomplishments achieved by collaborative research at multiple locations involving more than one scientific discipline.  Thus, we anticipate reporting fewer accomplishments, but accomplishments that are broader in scope that make greater contributions to American agriculture.  While it is not possible to report research accomplishments numerically, the progress projected in these Indicators was completed or substantially completed during FY 2004.  Fifty significant accomplishments are reported below.

 

OBJECTIVE 5.1:  Provide Science-Based Knowledge and Education To Improve the Management of Forest, Rangelands, and Pastures.

 

Performance Measure 5.1.1:  Develop ecologically-based information, technologies, germplasm, and management strategies that sustain agricultural production while conserving and enhancing the diverse natural resources found on rangelands and pasture lands.

 

Indicators:

 

During FY 2004, ARS will

 

provide increased understanding of genetic resources, genomics, and molecular processes of grasses, legumes, and other herbaceous plants that affect establishment, persistence, production and use so improved germplasm and cultivars can be released for pasture, harvested forages, turf, biofuels, rangeland restoration, and conservation.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:   ARS plant breeders at Lincoln, Nebraska, released two new big Bluestem grass cultivars for the Midwest and Eastern Great Plains.  “Goldmine” is for hardiness zone 6 and “Bonanza” for zone 5.  In grazing trails, “Bonanza” and “Goldmine” produced, respectively 50 and 18 pounds more beef per acre than older cultivars.  During the period 2000-2002 when participation was below normal, “Bonanza” produced over 400 pounds per acre per year of cattle gains.  In an economic comparison with non-irrigated corn on marginal land during the same period, “Bonanza” averaged over $70 per acre more net profit.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  To remain economically competitive, producers must maintain production with fewer inputs while adapting more effectively to climatic extremes.  Big Bluestem is a native prairie grass well adapted to the climate and pests of the region.  Improving its productivity gives producers more options for economic viability while creating more favorable conditions for wildlife.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Bluebunch Wheatgrass is a premier native grass widely used for revegetation across the Western States.  ARS scientists at Logan, Utah, collected 565 Bluebunch Wheatgrass plants that represented 82 locations spread across 9 States and provinces.  Using multi-locus DNA fingerprinting and statistical cluster analysis, they found that the grass samples fell into 21 geographically significant genetic groups.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Land managers are increasingly required to conserve biodiversity within a species to ensure sufficient genetic variability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.  The Logan findings indicate that seeds for most of the 21 genetic groups identified are not commercially available.  This information is helping land managers in identifying and evaluating new seed sources that better reflect local biodiversity needs.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Forage and grain legume producers sustain significant losses from diseases.  ARS scientists at Prosser, Washington, gathered information on the genetic basis of disease resistance in legumes and developed a multiplex real-time PCR assay that identifies key genes conferring resistance. 

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Breeding resistant cultivars is an important way to reduce these losses without having to use expensive pesticides.  But breeding projects traditionally require long, expensive greenhouse evaluations to identify and evaluate disease-resistance plant materials suitable for crosses.  This new assay will greatly shorten the time and costs to breeders in selecting breeding germplasm with desirable traits and evaluating the new cultivars.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: ARS scientists at Corvallis, Oregon, developed and made available to commercial grass seed growers a web-based decision support tool that improves the accuracy of predicting rust epidemics during the growing season.  The model also provides information that improves the timing and effectiveness of fungicide applications.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Stem rust is the most damaging disease in grass seed production in the Pacific Northwest.  Over 400,000 pounds of fungicide at a cost of $10 million are used annually to control this disease.  The model developed by ARS can reduce producers’ costs by increasing the effectiveness of fungicide treatments and improve the environment by reducing the amount of fungicides applied.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists at Madison, Wisconsin, demonstrated that the enzyme, polyphenol oxidase (PPO), helps to reduce the breakdown of protein while ensiling forages for dairy and other livestock operations.  These scientists working with ARS scientists at St. Paul, Minnesota, have cloned a PPO gene found in red clover and inserted it into alfalfa.  The modified alfalfa was found to produce PPO.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Alfalfa and some grasses have significant protein loss during the ensiling process.  This results in economic losses because additional protein supplementation for the livestock can be required.  It also results in adverse environmental impacts because nitrogen compounds are released into the environment instead of being retained in the forage.  Commercializing alfalfa with the PPO gene will increase economic and environmental sustainability.

 

provide forage and pasture management technologies and strategies that reduce inputs while improving livestock performance and sustaining the environment.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists at El Reno, Oklahoma, are evaluating options for providing suitable options for year round grazing.  They grazed pastures planted in tall fescue cool season grasses infected with non-toxic endophytes as a supplement to the traditional grazing system.  They found the tall fescue pasture provided producers with an additional 65 days of grazing for stocker cattle with the potential for a 145 additional pounds of gain per animal. 

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  The traditional grazing system in the southern Great Plains based on winter wheat and warm season perennial grasses has serious gaps in forage production and quality in the spring and fall.  Filling these gaps with a suitable cool season perennial grass will provide producers with new options for increasing profitability.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists at Brooksville, Florida, examined the effects of cattle stocking rates on phosphorous loadings, forage production, animal performance, and ranch economics.  When compared to the no-grazing control, they found that none of the cattle stocking rates evaluated resulted in increased phosphorus loading.  However, the higher stocking rates did result in increased net income.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Pasturelands were assumed to be a major source of phosphorus pollution in southern Florida.  These results indicate that with proper management there is compatibility between profitable livestock grazing and water quality goals.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS researchers at Beaver, West Virginia, working with scientists from Virginia State University studied how crossbreeding and finishing options could improve the value of meat goats.

They found that using the recently introduced Kiko meat goat as the male sire in crosses with Spanish and Myotonic breeds produced consistently small, lean carcass more effectively than the traditionally used Boer breeds.  They also found that the offspring finished most efficiently when supplemented with daily feed at a rate between 2 and 3 percent of body weight.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  One option for increasing profitability on small farms is efficiently serving niche markets such as the one for meat goats on the East coast.  These research results help producers select the best breeding stock and feeding supplementation rates to improve profitability.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Livestock grazers in the Northeast face periods when environmental stresses lead to forage deficits that result in lower livestock production.  ARS scientists at University Park, Pennsylvania, evaluated the effects of increasing plant diversity by planting a mixture of plants in pastures instead of only one or two species.  The hypothesis was that a mixture of plants with different growth characteristics can adapt to shifting environmental conditions better than one or two species.  They found that more complex plant mixtures resulted in fewer weeds and more forage production without a significant reduction in dry matter intake or milk production in Holstein cows.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Maintaining profitability requires that the forage deficit periods be reduced without using fertilizers, herbicides, and other expensive inputs.  Establishing pastures with a mix of plants with different characteristics helps to maintain production without additional use of expensive inputs that often have adverse environmental impacts.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Producing liquid fuels from forage biomass offers opportunities to increase national energy independence, diversify rural economies, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  ARS scientists at St. Paul, Minnesota, have evaluated procedures for estimating how much ethanol can be produced from biomass stocks, such as alfalfa.  They found that the common analytical system (detergent fiber analysis) used to estimate cellulose and other polysaccharides for livestock production is not adequate for biofuel estimates because it overestimates potential production.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  This information will help public and private managers develop more accurate estimates of potential production at the farm and processing plant, and nationally so investment options can be more effectively evaluated.

 

provide rangeland management technologies and strategies that reduce inputs while improving livestock performance and sustaining the environment including reducing the risks of wildfires, invasive weeds and other threats by stabilizing, restoring, and monitoring degraded rangeland in an affordable and sustainable manner.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  The lack of basic ecological information about the sagebrush steppe limits developing and assessing management guidelines for integrating livestock grazing and wildlife habitat conservation for species like the sage grouse.  ARS scientists at Burns, Oregon, quantified vegetation cover and composition across the region on 107 Wyoming big sagebrush sites classed as being in excellent condition.  When these findings were compared to current sage grouse habitat management guidelines, they often found the guidelines to be unrealistic in estimating the habitat potential of the land.  They are now working with land managers to develop more realistic guidelines based on this new ecological data.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Over estimating the potential of land areas to support a wildlife species can result in poor management and regulatory decisions.  Increasing the amount of science-based information available to managers will result in more effective decisions on livestock and wildlife management.  This includes more accurately identifying ecological sites where livestock grazing was thought to be adversely affecting wildlife numbers, but in fact, is not.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Because there are hundreds of millions of acres of rangelands, the cost of monitoring and assessing the condition of these ecologically diverse lands is a major concern.  ARS scientists at Las Cruces, New Mexico, working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) compared statistical options for analyzing data collected on the Jornada Experimental Range and data from the National Resources Inventory (NRI).  They found that the within-plot replication of data collection for monitoring and assessing at the landscape to regional scales could be significantly reduced from analytical protocols previously used.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Applications of these findings are expected to result in savings of as much as 25 percent in NRCS rangeland field data collection.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is a serious invasive weed that fuels wildfires and degrades rangeland ecosystems.  ARS scientists at Reno, Nevada, and Beltsville, Maryland, working with the U.S. Forest Service studied the effects of various atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on cheatgrass growth.  Increasing carbon dioxide levels from pre-industrial levels of 270 ppm to 420 ppm resulted in an average of 70 percent more cheatgrass biomass at 87 days.  This response to higher carbon dioxide levels could be a factor in the spread of cheatgrass into higher and lower elevations where it was not found previously.  Knowledge of this response will also help land managers identify more effective options for rangeland restoration.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Knowledge that increased carbon dioxide levels increase cheatgrass growth provides land managers with additional insights into the complex mix of factors contributing to the spread of invasive weeds and potential limits on restoring ecological sites, particularly to pre-industrial conditions.  Screening out excessively simplistic solutions will save managers time and resources.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Mountain big sagebrush canopies can become too dense and suppress other vegetation important to wildlife and livestock.  ARS scientists at Dubois, Idaho, identified sheep with a high preference for mountain big sagebrush and compared the impacts of these animals grazing on vegetation to a group of sheep identified as having a low preference.  They found no significant difference in sagebrush canopy cover following grazing by either of the two groups.  However, the high preference group consumed significantly more antelope bitterbrush, an important component of the sagebrush steppe.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Using livestock to manage vegetative cover to achieve environmental objectives is an ideal management option because it provides an economic resource (livestock) while improving the environment.  However, these results indicate that using grazing to target a specific plant species should to be carefully monitored to ensure there are no unexpected impacts on other ecosystem values. 

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists at Miles City, Montana, collected information on forage growth over many growing seasons with a variety of climatic conditions including droughts.  They found in the northern Great Plains that perennial grass production is closely tied to the spring rains and only loosely linked to fall precipitation.  About 90 percent of grass production happens by July 1 since summer rainfall is typically very limited.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Using this information, ranchers can determine if they are entering a period of drought and low forage production early in the summer and adjust their livestock grazing plans at that time instead of keeping animals through the summer, hoping for summer rain, and then finding themselves in a forage crisis.

 

OBJECTIVE 5.2:  Provide Science-Based Knowledge and Education To Improve Quality and Management of Soil, Air, and Water Resources.

 

Performance Measure 5.2.1:  Develop the tools and techniques required to maintain and restore the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s watersheds and its surface and groundwater resources.

 

Indicators:

 

During FY 2004, ARS will

 

develop and demonstrate the use of new irrigation and drainage management practices that improve water conservation and water quality.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  The application of fertilizer in irrigation water (fertigation) can be used efficiently for all irrigation methods.  Fertigation brings both nutrients and water to plants and at the same time saves money by combining two tasks into an efficient system.  ARS scientists at three locations have found different ways to improve the application of fertilizer and at the same time apply water more efficiently for the three irrigation methods.  Researchers from Phoenix, Arizona, found that improved fertilizer mixing and injection procedures can be used to improve the uniformity of the fertilizer applications to within 10 to 15 percent variation for surface irrigation practice.  Scientists at Lincoln, Nebraska, working with industry cooperators, developed a new electronic sensor that can be placed at different spacing atop a center-pivot irrigation system to apply variable rate fertilizer and water applications for precision farming.  This same sensor can be used on a high-clearance sprayer or other types of farm implements to precisely and accurately apply variable rate fertilizer applications on both irrigated and non-irrigated (rain fed) croplands.  Also, researchers at Parlier, California, have demonstrated that applying both fertilizers and water on nearly a continuous basis through drip irrigations, which are buried underground, can prevent seepage of excess nutrients into ground waters.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Current estimates are that various fertigation techniques will be used on 50 percent of the irrigated lands in the United States by 2010 for an additional increase in farm profits of at least $600 million dollars per year based on conservative estimates for fertilizer savings and increased yields alone with consideration given to environmental benefits.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Phosphorus (P) transport with surface runoff can cause eutrophication (an increase in algae and other plants) in receiving water bodies.  Phosphorus losses from furrow and simulated sprinkler irrigation were measured in field and laboratory tests at Kimberly, Idaho.  Total phosphorus loss is directly related to sediment loss. Soluble phosphorus loss is more complicated, involving soil phosphorus concentration, suspended sediment concentration, and contact time with soil and sediment.  Soluble phosphorus concentration in filtered runoff was linearly related to soil phosphorus concentration.  Management practices that reduce sediment loss from fields also reduce total phosphorus loss.  Using sediment ponds to catch runoff from fields treated with anionic polyacrylamide (PAM) reduced total P loss by 86 to 98 percent compared to not using either treatment.  PAM and sediment ponds, however, did not affect soluble P concentrations.  Recent research has shown that applying 20 mg L-1 alum (about 15 gal per acre-ft) to irrigation return flow reduced soluble phosphorus concentration about 50 percent, but this practice may cost too much for routine use by irrigation districts (at least $8 per acre-ft).

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Controlling soil erosion is essential for reducing phosphorus losses from irrigated land, but additional economically viable practices are needed to reduce soluble phosphorus losses from irrigated land.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Although drip irrigation systems have been used to effectively and practically apply nutrients and a few pesticides, volatile soil fumigants have not been applied with irrigation water.  With the phase-out of methyl bromide, there is a need to develop alternative soil fumigants.  Registration of fumigants requires application methods that minimize worker and neighborhood exposure from these toxic substances.  ARS developed and refined methods to apply volatile fumigants through drip irrigation systems.  The closed application systems minimize worker exposure; and application in water through subsurface drip to plastic covered beds reduces air emissions and neighborhood exposure.  ARS developed application equipment and procedures; tested chemicals, formulations and mixing techniques; verified fumigant distribution in the soil profile; quantified efficacy of the treatments; and demonstrated the technique in over 25 grower field trials.  In addition, ARS researchers evaluated 39 strawberry drip irrigation systems, found that about half of the systems needed improvement, and presented six workshops on methods to improve strawberry irrigation uniformity.  Three drip-applied fumigants have been registered for use in the United States and several other countries.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Based on ARS’ research, the current estimate is that 25 percent of the Nation's commercial strawberries, with a value of $300 million, were drip fumigated in 2004.  Over the next few years, the strawberry acreage that is fumigated through drip irrigation systems could easily double and provide a savings to the grower of over $15 million dollars compared to more expensive alternatives.  The drip technique is also being used to fumigate melons, peppers, and tomatoes, and is being tested for orchards, vineyards, and nursery crops.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Water treatment facility residues help reduce water pollution.  ARS scientists in Florence, South Carolina, and University Park, Pennsylvania, have found that residue from water treatment processes, often discarded as waste and placed in landfills, may make a great soil amendment for preventing loss of phosphorus (P) in runoff from agricultural fields.  ARS scientists have found an alum-based water treatment residual that can increase the soil's capacity to bond phosphorus, a vital plant nutrient.  The results should benefit States along the Nation's mid-to-southern-Atlantic seaboard, where sandy soils generally take up and hold less P than finer-textured soils.  In laboratory tests with sandy soil, the treatment increased P-binding potential four- to five-fold over that of untreated soil.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  If successful, the use for waste from water-treatment processing not only could get rid of the waste, but would also hold P on the land until a crop uses it.  Economic benefits to the United States of reducing P in runoff are estimated to exceed at $200 million in addition to improving the quality of drinking water.

 

develop models and decision support systems that quantify the economic and environmental impact of conservation practices at field, farm, and watershed scale.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  There is increasing concern regarding the impact of water-borne pathogens on human health.  Enterohemorrhagic E. coli O157:H7 is a serious health threat, particularly in children.  At present, the risk from water-borne transmission of E. coli O157:H7 cannot be estimated because there are no reliable methods for the detection and enumeration of small numbers of these organisms in water samples.  ARS scientists at Beltsville, Maryland, have developed a novel method for the quantitative detection of E. coli O157:H7 in water samples using commercial antibodies coupled to magnetic beads (IM) and a light producing catalyst (ECL).  The method is relatively fast (less than 24 hours) and inexpensive, allowing for the analysis of multiple water samples daily for the detection of as few as one viable bacterium per 100 mL of water.  This assay is currently being used to screen samples from watersheds with different land uses (animal agriculture, urban/suburban, forested) for the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), entitled “Development of Integrated Waveguide Biosensor for Pathogen and Toxin Detection in Water,” was initiated with Creatv MicroTech.  Hopefully it will be available soon to the public as a fast and economical means of testing for pathogens in public drinking water supplies.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists in Oxford, Mississippi, have developed a low-cost means of reducing gully and streambank erosion, one of the major causes of soil loss and sedimentation within our Nation’s streams.  Traditional measures for controlling this type of erosion require costly stone or concrete structures. ARS scientists developed large woody debris structures consisting of uprooted trees stacked in crossing layers anchored to the streambed with steel cables.  These structures provide shelter for fish and insects, restores riparian habitats, and costs less than traditional methods.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  The structures reduce sediment transport, triggering natural deposition to heal channels enlarged by years of erosion.  Also, the structures cost about $25 per foot of treated bank, or 20 to 50 percent of the cost of recent stone bank stabilization projects in the region. 

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  In response to mounting water quality concerns, many States have developed guidelines for land application of phosphorus (P) based on the potential for P loss in agricultural runoff.  These actions have been spurred, in part, by a Federal initiative in which the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA created a joint strategy to implement Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs) on Animal Feeding Operations by 2008, which considers both agronomic and environmental impacts of applied P.  To address this need, ARS led the development and refinement of a P Index to rank the vulnerability of fields to P loss in runoff and identify those at greatest risk for loss.  The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has adopted the use of the P index in 47 States as the basis for development of CMNPs, and over 2000 NRCS field agents and nutrient management consultants across the United States have received training.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Widespread adoption and use of the P Index is resulting in the first significant reduction in the threat to water quality from non-point sources of P.  Economic benefits of using this approach are estimated at $204 to $355 million and include increased recreational use of waters, better shellfish harvest, fewer fish kills, lower drinking water treatment costs, and reduced loss of livestock to disease.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Soil salinization is a major problem, causing decreased crop production and water quality problems, in irrigated lands of arid and semiarid regions of the world including the Southwestern United States.  Over the past 15 years, ARS researchers at Riverside, California, have developed technology for using electrical resistivity and electromagnetic induction sensors (EM) to measure soil salinity.  Within the past four years, this technology was combined into a mobile platform (typically a modified spray tractor) with global positioning systems (GPS) and a computer to rapidly and remotely collect soil conductivity data.  In cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, a salinity assessment network has been recently deployed throughout the Lower Colorado Region.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  The primary end users of this technology include technical specialists from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Natural Resource Conservation Service along with water district personnel throughout the Western United States, various university extension specialists, and research scientists in saline regions throughout the world, including Canada, Mexico, South America, Australia and the Middle East.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Scientists from the Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center participated in the multi-agency development of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Management Plan for the Umatilla River.  The Umatilla TMDL established limits for water quality and goals for its improvement.  The scientists served on the TMDL technical committee to design preliminary data collection methodologies for temperature, suspended sediment, riparian and stream morphology sampling and data analysis and interpretation; data collection; and review of the TMDL document.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  The Umatilla River TMDL is one of the first Oregon TMDLs completed and approved by EPA for implementation.  The effort was a multi-agency effort involving private concerns, local municipalities, county, state, tribal, and Federal agencies and is now considered the standard for TMDL development within Oregon.  The broad participation in TMDL development bodes well for a coordinated effort to restore habitat in the Umatilla River and its tributaries to meet beneficial use requirements.

 

provide technical support to NRCS and the U.S. Forest Service as they deploy ARS soil erosion models throughout the Nation in support of the 2002 Farm Bill.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists in Boise, Idaho, working with the National Weather Service (NWS), developed new techniques to more accurately estimate rainfall using the NWS NAXRAD radar system.  The ARS scientists found that the original methods NWS was utilizing under-estimated rainfall by 25 to 60 percent compared to NWS' measurements of precipitation on six highly instrumented experimental agricultural watersheds.

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  The NWS has determined that the ARS-derived technique has greatly improved the accuracy and precision of rainfall estimation and has therefore reprogrammed its radar system in 2004.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  The U.S. Army was looking for a way to determine real-time accurate estimates of surface soil moisture to help it plan where and when they can drive vehicles without getting stuck in the mud.  The U.S. Army turned to ARS scientists in Tucson, Arizona, to develop a method for rapidly and accurately estimating these conditions.  The ARS scientists developed a new and simple remote sensing technique of image differencing in part by using data from the long-term highly instrumented Walnut Gulch watershed.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  This new procedure was found to be superior to the more complex and expensive model currently used by the U.S. Army because it can account for the high rocks content commonly found in desert soils.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  SWAT, which stands for Soil and Water Assessment Tool, is being used worldwide to assess environmental benefits.  It was developed over the past 30 years by a team of ARS researchers at Temple, Texas, in cooperation with other ARS scientists in Bushland, Texas; El Reno, Oklahoma; Tucson, Arizona; Ft. Collins, Colorado; Miami, Florida; Ames, Iowa; and Tifton, Georgia.  Over the past four years, EPA and ARS have made SWAT available to State agencies and consultants throughout the Nation to evaluate and assess water quality impairments and to assist in developing watershed plans for addressing specific problems.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service used the SWAT model in its 1997 Resource Conservation Appraisal, in which the first national assessment of agricultural water use, tillage systems, and fertilizer management was made.  In 2004, NRCS and ARS are again using SWAT to work together to quantify the environmental benefits of conservation practices at the national scale and the watershed scale for the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP).

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  The newest version of SWAT has been distributed to hundreds of scientists and engineers at universities, government agencies, and consulting firms throughout the world.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Natural Resources Conservation, and Alabama A&M University joined ARS scientists from Beltsville, Maryland, in testing and designing satellites that one day will be able to monitor global soil moisture.  The techniques use sensors that require an antenna that looks like an umbrella or a satellite dish.  The technique functions like a mirror, constantly reflecting radiation emitted from Earth onto sensors that measure the strength of the radiation using microwave signals emitted from soil.  The ARS scientists are testing these methods for a new satellite called Hydros that NASA plans to launch by the end of the decade.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Once enhanced soil moisture predictions and measurements are part of daily weather forecasts, it should help predict when rainstorms will occur; provide better assessments of drought stricken areas; provide needed information for assisting in alerting the public to potential floods; and help farmers determine when to plant, fertilize, and harvest crops with more precision and accuracy than has every been available before.

 

Performance Measure 5.2.2:  Develop agricultural practices that maintain or enhance soil resources, thus ensuring sustainable food, feed, and fiber production while protecting environmental quality.

 

Indicators:

 

During FY 2004, ARS will

 

develop management practices and decision tools which make more efficient use of plant nutrients from fertilizers and other sources while protecting the environment.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Elevated levels of nitrate nitrogen are found in ground water in areas where vegetables are grown in rotation with corn, alfalfa, soybeans, sorghum and wheat.  ARS scientists from Fort Collins, Colorado, found that nitrogen application rates on grain and silage crops could be greatly reduced when these crops followed vegetable crops that had received high nitrogen rates.  This practice significantly increased nitrogen use efficiency by the grain and corn silage crops and reduced nitrogen contamination of ground water.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  This information can be used by crop consultants, extension agents, and Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel as they make fertilizer recommendations to producers.  Lower nitrogen fertilizer application rates will result in improved water quality and greater profits for producers.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Excessive application of ammonia fertilizer can be attributed in part to farmers compensating for poor application uniformity of current equipment.  ARS scientists from Ames, Iowa, and their cooperators developed a new manifold that produces much more even distribution of anhydrous ammonia across the tool bar.  Benefits of this new technology will be reduced fertilizer application rates, reduced fertilizer cost, and improved water quality.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Efficiency of anhydrous application to agricultural lands has been advanced.  This innovative product received an award from the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.

 

develop management practices and decision tools which improve soil conditions and crop growth.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:   Compacted soil layers limit yield and reduce overall productivity of soils.  ARS scientists from Auburn, Alabama, have developed real-time instrumentation to measure the depth to the compacted layer thus allowing farmers to till at the appropriate depth to disrupt the restrictive layer. 

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Continuous measurement of soil compaction will allow tillage to be adjusted to target depths of soil compaction rather than setting a uniform depth of tillage that may be either too deep, wasting energy, or too shallow, ineffectively tilling the soil.  A patent has been received and a partnership with industry developed to produce equipment that will enable farmers to make continuous tillage depth adjustment-based on depth to the compacted layer.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Rangeland assessments and monitoring based solely on vegetation indicators often fail to detect degradation until it is too late for management intervention.  ARS scientists from Las Cruces, New Mexico, have developed three new tools to indicate soil quality:  a soil stability kit, impact penetrometer, and infiltrometer.  These tools, which generate more sensitive and more cost-effective data than previously existing tools, are now available commercially.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  These soil quality indicators enable rangeland managers to generate more useful information on the status and changes of both private and public rangeland.  The soil stability kit is the only quantitative soil quality protocol used in the Natural Resources Conservation Service-Natural Resources Inventory.  It has been adapted as a standard monitoring tool by groups within Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense, and the Nature Conservancy.

 

Performance Measure 5.2.3:  Develop approaches that mitigate the impact of poor air quality on crop production and provide scientific information and technology to maintain or enhance crop and animal production while controlling emissions that reduce air quality or destroy the ozone layer.

 

Indicators:

 

During FY 2004, ARS will develop methods to reduce emissions of harmful gases from crop production systems and postharvest/quarantine treatments.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists in Gainesville, Florida, in collaboration with University of Florida scientists, studied the dispersion patterns and emissions of the methyl bromide alternative pre-plant soil fumigants: 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D), chloropicrin, and methyl isothiocyanate (MITC), the active breakdown product of metam sodium.  These were applied to a Florida sandy soil either as drip-tube placement, shank injection, or rototiller incorporation with three types of raised-bed row cover conditions. For all materials, beds covered with virtually impermeable film (VIF) gave higher concentrations for a longer period of time and better distributions of fumigants in the target rooting zones, possibly because VIF decreased the volatilization losses to the atmosphere.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  These findings indicate that the use of VIF film row covers could increase the efficacy of fumigants and might decrease the required amount of material to be applied, while decreasing the volatilization to the atmosphere.  This would decrease the hazard to adjacent human habitations and perhaps decrease the set-back requirements of the treated field borders.  Shank injection appeared to be better than either rototilled incorporation or drip-tube application in Florida soil conditions.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Scientists in Fort Pierce, Florida, have addressed the need to enhance the effectiveness of existing chemical fumigants while minimizing the impacts to the environment, thus providing a possible solution to commercial vegetable producers currently relying on soil fumigation with methyl bromide.  Trials were conducted using broadcast applications of Telone C-35 in combination with the herbicides Devrinol and Treflan and an additional application of chloropicrin.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  In a 50-acre trial that was conducted four consecutive years in the same field, yields in the fourth year under the alternative were higher than in adjacent fields fumigated with methyl bromide.  The incidence of soilborne diseases was lower than in adjacent fields fumigated with methyl bromide.  

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Apple replant disease is a significant factor limiting production and profitability of orchards rejuvenated with new trees.  Studies were conducted by ARS scientists in Wenatchee, Washington, to assess the ability of soybean meal and a low glucosinolate rapeseed seed meal to provide control of Rhizoctonia solani AG-5, which causes root rot of apple and contributes to the development of apple replant disease. 

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Rapeseed, but not soybean, seed meal amendment suppressed infection of apple roots by this fungal pathogen, and disease control was associated with an increase in populations of Streptomyces spp. bacteria naturally resident to orchard soils, and specifically those Streptomyces spp. that possess the capacity to produce nitric oxide, a chemical known to induce plant defense responses.  These studies provide further evidence that sustainable, environmentally friendly systems can reduce apple replant disease.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists in Parlier, California, in collaboration with the University of California tested several methyl bromide alternatives in replanted peach and plum orchards and vineyards in a series of field trials located at the SJVASC research station and in growers' fields in Dinuba, California.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Emulsified formulations of alternative fumigants 1,3 dichloropropene (1,3-D) and chloropicrin applied through subsurface drip irrigation systems produced tree growth and yields equal to that treated with methyl bromide.  Control of plant parasitic nematodes in vineyard replant plots treated with drip-applied 1,3-D or shank-injected iodomethane was comparable to control achieved by methyl bromide after six growing seasons.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Strategies to replace methyl bromide use for suppression of nematodes and other soilborne plant pathogens are needed for vegetable growers.  In a three year field study scientists in Beltsville, Maryland, have shown that biologically-based treatments incorporating nematode-resistant cover crops for nematode population suppression in tomato cropping systems provided tomato yields similar to, or greater than, treatments using methyl bromide.  In addition, the biologically-based system had significantly lower production costs.  The net return per hectare over two years was $20,084 for methyl bromide and $20,490 for velvetbean cover crop treatments.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Biologically-based production systems are an economically feasible alternative to production systems reliant on methyl bromide fumigation, are friendlier to the environment, and contribute significantly to soil fertility.

 

develop methods and control technologies which reduce particulate matter emissions from crop and animal production systems.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  A number of factors control ammonia emissions from wasteful lagoons.  ARS scientists from Watkinsville, Georgia, and their cooperators found that over the short-term (2 to 3 weeks) turbulence of the air is the strongest factor effecting emissions, while over the longer term (6 to 12 months) temperature of the lagoon water is the next most dominant factor.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  The results suggest that ammonia emissions from lagoons can be managed by reducing turbulence and controlling water temperature.  Two statistical ammonia emissions models have been developed that are limited in scope, but accurate in the geographic area where they were developed.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Elevated ammonia levels in high rise laying hen houses can threaten bird and worker health, and reduce egg production.  ARS scientists from Fayetteville, Arkansas, developed an automated liquid alum delivery system to reduce ammonia levels in the hen house from 90 parts per million to 10 parts per million.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  The system improved worker safety and bird health.  Egg production was increased 3.3 percent and feed conversion was improved, resulting in a net return of $426 per house per week.

 

Performance Measure 5.2.4:  Develop agricultural practices and decision support strategies that allow producers to take advantage of beneficial effects and mitigate adverse impacts of global change.

 

Indicators:

 

During FY 2004, ARS will

 

assess the potential risks and benefits to agricultural systems that may arise from global change, and develop agricultural management practices and decision support strategies that enable producers to take advantage of beneficial effects and mitigate adverse impacts.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists at several locations have found increased risks to rangeland systems arising from increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  At Beltsville, Maryland, scientists found that the increase of carbon dioxide that already occurred during the 20th century stimulates cheatgrass growth and alters the balance of carbon and nitrogen in its tissues. Combined, these changes result in an increased fuel load that favors more frequent fires than would be expected with native vegetation and promotes cheatgrass invasions.  Similarly, scientists at Temple, Texas, found that increases in carbon dioxide from pre-industrial levels to current day concentrations changed the species composition of intact grassland communities over four years.  Such changes in plant communities may affect the value of rangelands for livestock grazing.  Researchers at Cheyenne, Wyoming, found that exposing shortgrass prairie communities to increased carbon dioxide led to changes in species composition and reduced the nitrogen content of the plants.  These combined effects reduced the digestibility of the native forage.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Results of many studies have shown that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere can stimulate plant growth, which may be beneficial for crop production in some cases.  However, results of recent ARS studies show that there are some risks as well.  Changes in plant communities and the composition of plant tissues may have economic impacts via frequency and intensity of fires or by reducing the value of forage in grazing lands.  Such impacts could require modifying current range management practices, such as fire management and animal stocking rates.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists have demonstrated that continued global warming can be detrimental to the production of a variety of crops.  At Gainesville, Florida, scientists found that grain sorghum yields failed completely when the plants were grown at temperatures that may occur in the late 21st century; seed head emergence was inhibited, dwarfism was induced, and benefits of increased carbon dioxide concentration did not reduce temperature sensitivity.  Researchers at Beltsville, Maryland, found that higher than normal temperatures and ultraviolet-B radiation alone or in combination with increased carbon dioxide reduced pollen production and fruit set in soybean; increased temperature during flowering also reduced boll retention by cotton plants.  Such impacts suppress yields, but effects vary among crop varieties.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Although studies have shown that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can benefit some crop plants because they capture more carbon from the air, recent experiments by ARS scientists show that environmental changes accompanying carbon dioxide increases have detrimental effects that offset the benefits.  Increasing carbon dioxide causes global warming, and the increased temperatures adversely impact yields.  Further increases in both carbon dioxide concentration and temperature are expected during the 21st century, so management options such as choosing stress-tolerant crop varieties must be considered, along with other techniques, to sustain yields.

 

identify the processes that control the rate at which agricultural systems release and absorb greenhouse gases, and develop agricultural management practices that contribute to reductions in the Nation’s net greenhouse gas emissions.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists at Watkinsville, Georgia, determined that soil carbon sequestration during the first five years of bermudagrass pasture management was two to three times greater under grazed pastures than under hayed or unharvested management pastures.  ARS scientists at Cheyenne, Wyoming, found that managing the mixture of plant species in rangelands also can increase sequestration. Legumes are a minor component of Great Plains native rangeland ecosystems, and interseeding the native plants with yellow flowering alfalfa increased soil organic carbon by 17 percent after 36 years.  Furthermore, emission of nitrous oxide, a very potent greenhouse gas, was not increased by introducing the nitrogen-fixing alfalfa into the native system. 

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into soil offsets emissions of greenhouse gases implicated in global climate change.  Results of these studies show that certain management practices for forage and livestock can maintain a productive agricultural system even while enhancing the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, contributing to improvements in environmental quality and potentially developing carbon credits that may be traded to enhance farm income.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  The goal for carbon sequestration in dryland agricultural soils is to return the soils to pre-management levels of organic matter.  In contrast, carbon sequestration may exceed native amounts in properly managed arid zone soils.  ARS researchers in Kimberley, Idaho, and Ft. Collins, Colorado, demonstrated that the carbon in arid soils can be increased above native amounts by a combination of irrigation and conservation tillage practices in soils supporting pastures or crops.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Results show that choosing the right combination of management options can benefit not just yield and soil productivity in arid production areas, but also raise carbon sequestration to new levels, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and slows global climate change.  Enhanced soil carbon may become an increasingly tradable commodity.

 

Performance Measure 5.2.5:  Develop management practices, treatment technologies, and decision tools for effective use of animal manure and selected industrial and municipal byproducts to improve soil properties and enhance crop production while protecting the environment.

 

Indicators:

 

During FY 2004, ARS will

 

develop management practices and treatment technologies which reduce nutrient losses from animal manure to the environment.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Beef cattle in feedlots are typically fed diets that contain a constant concentration of protein.  ARS scientists from Bushland, Texas, found oscillating dietary crude protein concentrations between moderately deficient (10 percent of dry water) and adequate (14 percent of dry water) at 48 hour intervals resulted in nitrogen retention by the animal and a 5 percent improvement in the average daily gain by finishing cattle

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  This feeding system has the potential to decrease the quantity of nitrogen fed by 5 to 15 percent, resulting in decreased feedlot nitrogen losses through runoff and volatilization.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Soluble phosphorus in manure can impact water quality through runoff and leaching.  ARS scientists from Beltsville, Maryland, found they could reduce the solubility of phosphorus in manure by treating the manure with synthetic zeolites.  The zeolites bind phosphorus in the manure and prevent its movement to water, thus protecting water quality. 

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  The results have been transferred to the Zero Waste Alliance and are being recommended as a phosphorus recovery strategy for dairies in the Northwestern United States.

 

develop management practices and treatment technologies which reduce gaseous and particulate matter emissions from animal production operations.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure storage systems are considered environmental and potential health problems.  ARS scientists from Ames, Iowa, found that a polymer lagoon biocover reduced ammonia emissions by 54 percent and hydrogen sulfide emissions by 58 percent over a three month period.  The longer the biocover was on the lagoon the more effective it became due to the development of a stable anaerobic layer.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Lagoon covers can provide a cost-effective method for reducing emissions from lagoon systems and benefit producers who need to reduce emission while operating their current manure storage systems.  

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  There is insufficient paucity of U.S. data on ammonia losses following field application of manure. ARS researches at Beltsville, Maryland, found that surface applied dairy manure slurries lost 40 to 80 percent of ammonium nitrogen within 24 to 48 hours of application, while solid manure, such as poultry litter had losses of 10 to 30 percent over one week.  They found that compared to surface application, incorporation of manure into the soil by chisel plowing, tandem disk plowing, or moldboard plowing reduced ammonia losses by 80 percent, 90 percent, and 99 percent, respectively.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  These results will be useful to the Natural Resources Conservation Service and private consultants as they develop nutrient management plans.  Results from these studies have contributed to the development of an ammonia volatilization decision support system that is being used to update ammonia loss estimates in Maryland’s Nutrient Management Program. 

 

Performance Measure 5.2.6:  Develop agricultural and decision support systems that assist in increasing the efficiency of agricultural enterprises and achieve economic and environmental sustainability.

 

Indicators:

 

During FY 2004, ARS will develop new production practices and decision support tools that increase profitability and improve environmental quality.

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Due to excessive cultivation and wind erosion in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, soil organic matter has decreased from 4 percent at the time of settlement to as low as 0.3 percent today. To improve soil productivity, ARS Scientists at the Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center, Weslaco, Texas, developed an integrated conservation tillage system that trades most tillage trips over cotton and sorghum fields for a blanket of stems, leaves, and stalks.  Their research showed that when using this system, organic matter doubled in a nine year period, and soil loss to wind erosion was prevented.  In fact, soils with 60 percent crop residue cover accumulated soil blown from nearby fields.  The researchers also developed ways to effectively control weeds without extensive tillage which was critical for success.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  These conservation practices protected the soil from wind erosion.  Farmers have accepted these practices because production costs have been reduced, giving them greater profits.  An added benefit of this research was the conservation tillage systems were more productive during drought periods. Because of these multiple benefits, this integrated system has been adopted on more than 100,000 acres in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. 

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Research by scientists at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, Madison, Wisconsin, has shown that modifying diets of confined dairy cattle can increase milk productivity while reducing environmental impacts.  When birdsfoot trefoil with optimal tannin levels was fed in place of tannin-free alfalfa, dairy cattle produced 15 percent more milk and excreted 20 percent less urinary nitrogen - a form of nitrogen readily lost to the atmosphere.  The increased milk production and reduced adverse environmental consequences of dietary condensed tannins are due to improved protein utilization by dairy cattle.

 

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  Using the ARS Integrated Farm System Model, researchers predicted Wisconsin dairy farms would experience long-term profit increases of up to 12 percent and reduced nitrogen losses of up to 25 percent if dairy farms produced and fed an alfalfa with moderate tannin levels.  This work demonstrates how integrated crop and animal research using computer decision support can provide a road map to develop agricultural systems that are both economic and environmental friendly.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  ARS scientists at the Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit, Corvallis, Oregon, are not only determining the benefits of direct seeding and vegetative buffers to reduce agricultural nutrient and sediment movement from fields to waterways, but also how agricultural drainages and nearby trees can benefit wildlife.  Working with partners from Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, it was shown that native fish use seasonal streams near grass seed fields during the winter.  Nutrient and sediment concentrations in these south Willamette River basin drainages were generally less than those reported to adversely affect fish health, and some fish species even used these drainages to reproduce.  Also, trees naturally growing in fields along drainages were shown to provide habitat for winter songbirds.  University of Massachusetts and ARS scientists in Corvallis, Oregon, showed 17 times more birds were found along forested than non-forested drainages, but only 15 percent of the total land cover was needed to be in trees to maximize songbird diversity.

IMPACT/OUTCOME:  This research shows in addition to providing farmers income from their crops, the seasonal drainages and vegetation near these grass seed fields are providing valuable habitats supporting native fish and bird populations in a landscape that is significantly impacted by cities and towns.  Because aquatic wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act can be sensitive to high concentrations of sediments and nutrients found in field runoff, these findings will support landowner applications for conservation program payments under the USDA Farm Bill, and help demonstrate compliance with provisions of the Clean Water Act.
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Last Modified: 8/17/2005
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