Submitted to: International Soil Conservation Organization Conference Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: June 15, 2001
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: To improve the management of the nation's natural resources in agriculture, information about the effects of management systems on those resources needs to be provided to land managers. Management systems can affect sustainability, surface and groundwater quality, and farm income. Often a management system can improve results for one issue, but make others worse. A first step in sorting out these effects is to quantify the effects of management on the resources in question. Measurements of the effects of management on natural resources in the field is the only reliable basis for quantifying these effects, but such measurements are very expensive. An extensive field program called Management System Evaluation Areas was conducted in the 1990s across the Midwest and the results are available. Simulation models can be used to extend those measured results to other soils, slopes and management systems. Finally, software that presents information to the land manager in a way that compares alternative management systems to the system in place can help land managers select a better management system. An example of how this could be done in western Iowa is presented.
Technical Abstract: A number of developments are converging which may substantially improve the scientific basis available for farmers to make natural resource decisions. The Management System Evaluation Areas (MSEA) have been collecting data, primarily on the effects of management on groundwater, since the early 1990s. A new effort to collect data on a broader range of resource problems is being undertaken at Agricultural Systems for Environmental Quality (ASEQ) sites. Simulation models capable of extrapolating observed data to other areas have been under development for decades. Strides are being made in computer hardware, graphical user interfaces and the databases needed to run simulation models. Multiobjective Decision Support Systems have advanced rapidly in recent years, allowing more systematic consideration of the effects of management on many resources at the farm level during the conservation planning process. Information from the conservation planning process can also be applied to improve research by highlighting the issues important for decision making, particularly the resource problems and management system alternatives that should be observed and simulated. An example showing how observed data, simulation models and Decision Support Systems can improve conservation planning in the Deep Loess Region of Western Iowa is presented.