Location: Soil Management Research
Title: The many faces and facets of water in agriculture Author
Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: March 27, 2014
Publication Date: N/A
Technical Abstract: The many forms of water (i.e., water vapor, fog, rain, snow, hail and ice) are essential, but can be detrimental, for maintaining an adequate food supply and a productive and healthy environment for all forms of life. Greater limitations on water availability and quality call for research on water conservation, recycling and improved water-use efficiency. More than 75% of fresh water resources are being used in agricultural production; in order to satisfy food needs of a growing population, agriculture will have to compete with other sectors of the economy for water resources. Intense agricultural production in the Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB) causes inherent environmental problems, including nitrate export to the Gulf of Mexico, eutrophication of lakes, soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions; water acts as a medium for most of these processes. The mission of the "Soils" Laboratory, which is situated at the top of UMRB, and as a part of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), is to "Enhance productive conservation of agricultural and natural resources base (including soil and water), improve environmental health, and contribute to national food security through diversified, competitive, and resilient agroecosystems in the Upper Midwest." The water availability and watershed management national program at ARS conducts fundamental and applied research on the processes that control water availability and quality for the health and economic growth of the American people, and develops new and improved technologies for managing the nation’s agricultural water resources. The goal of this research is to effectively and safely manage water resources while protecting the environment and human and animal health. Research being conducted in the national program addresses six problem areas: (1) effectiveness of conservation practices; (2) irrigation water management; (3) drainage water management systems; (4) integrated soil erosion and sedimentation technologies; (5) watershed management, water availability, and ecosystem restoration; and (6) water quality protection systems. The newly established Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) Network within ARS aims at building regional partnership to sustain ecosystem services at field, farm and watershed scales. The "Soils" Lab is a part of the UMRB; through its collaboration with other ARS research labs, land grant universities, and non-governmental organizations, it developed shared and coordinated research questions across several locations within the watershed, provided capacity to address large-scale research and developmental issues, and built databases, carried out data analyses and interpretation on research questions about climate change and ecosystem services in relation to water quantity and quality. Outputs and outcomes of ARS' research on water resources include: technologies for detailed assessment of conservation programs at the watershed level; improved irrigation scheduling tools and water delivery technologies; drainage systems to mitigate environmental impacts of agricultural drainage water in rainfed and irrigated croplands; better erosion control technologies; improved decision support systems for planning and assessment to manage local effects on a field, farm and watershed scale; best management practices for managing water quantity and quality; and effective control strategies and technologies to reduce transport of chemicals and pathogens from agricultural lands to aquatic ecosystems.