Title: ASSESSING THE EFFECTS OF CONSERVATION PRACTICES: A NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: October 1, 2005
Publication Date: November 1, 2005
Citation: Richardson, C.W. 2005. Assessing the effects of conservation practices: a national perspective. In: Proceedings of the Oklahoma Water 2005 Conference, September 27-28, 2005, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Paper No. 10. p. 1-2.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation initiatives are conducted through several programs. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (the 2002 Farm Bill) authorized an increase in funding levels for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), authorized continued funding for other conservation programs, and established new conservation programs. Overall, the 2002 Farm Bill authorized federal expenditures for conservation practices on farms and ranches in the U.S. at a level about 80 percent above the level set under the 1996 Farm Bill. It is widely recognized that these conservation programs will protect millions of acres of agricultural land from degradation and will enhance environmental quality. The environmental benefits of the programs, however, have not been quantified. Tracking the environmental benefits of the programs will allow policy-makers and program managers to implement and modify existing programs and design new programs to more effectively and efficiently meet the goals of Congress.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are leading a project to quantify the effects of the USDA conservation programs. The project, known as the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), has two major components: 1) a National Assessment and 2) a Watershed Assessment Study. The National Assessment will be conducted using NRCS data and watershed-scale models developed by ARS and will provide estimates of conservation benefits at the national scale. The ARS Watershed Assessment Study (WAS) is designed to provide detailed assessment of conservation programs on selected watersheds.
Previous research has established effects of conservation practices at the plot or field-scale. The results are limited in that they have not captured the complexities and interactions of conservation practices, landscape characteristics, and other land uses at watershed and landscape scales. The WAS will assess effects and benefits of conservation practices at the watershed scale. The results will advance our knowledge of how watershed scale assessments might be done to capture impacts at multiple scales. They also will improve our understanding of effects of conservation practices beyond the edge of the farm field. Ultimately, the assessments conducted at the watershed scale will be used to improve the performance of the models that will be used in the National Assessment.
Twelve ARS Benchmark Watersheds will support watershed-scale assessment of environmental effects of USDA conservation program implementation. The ARS Benchmark Watersheds represent primarily rainfed cropland, although some of the watersheds also contain irrigated cropland, grazingland, wetlands, and confined animal feeding operations. Conservation practices (or best management practices, BMPs) to be emphasized will include NRCS CORE 4 practices for croplands (conservation buffers, nutrient management, pest management, and tillage management), drainage management systems, and manure management practices. Environmental effects and benefits will be estimated primarily for water and soil resources, with some assessment of wildlife habitat and air quality benefits in some watersheds.
The goal for the WAS is to provide detailed assessments of conservation programs in a few selected watersheds, provide a framework for improving the performance of the national assessment models, and support coordinated research on the effects of conservation practices across a range of resource characteristics (such as climate, terrain, land use, and soils).
The comprehensive analysis of resources, the quality of the environment, and social and economic benefits that accrue to rural communities and the nation from implementing conservation programs will benefit those responsible for developing conservation policy and managing the USDA Farm Bill conservation programs.