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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Early investment in soil conservation experiment stations continues to provide dividends

item Gilley, John
item Flanagan, Dennis

Submitted to: Transactions of the ASABE
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: September 10, 2007
Publication Date: November 16, 2007
Repository URL:
Citation: Gilley, J.E., Flanagan, D.C. 2007. Early investment in soil conservation research continues to provide dividends. Transactions of the ASABE 50:1595-1601.

Interpretive Summary: Hugh H. Bennett, chief of the USDA - Soil Conservation Service from its inception in 1935 until his retirement in 1951, was instrumental in the establishment of a network of 35 soil conservation experiment stations (SCES). Research projects were initiated at the SCES in 1930 to investigate the principal factors causing soil erosion and to determine the most effective and practical methods of controlling soil losses from agricultural areas. The National Runoff and Soil Loss Data Center (NRSLDC) was established on the campus of Purdue University in 1954 as part of the recently created USDA - Agricultural Research Service. Information obtained from the SCES, and selected other locations, was assembled at the NRSLDC under the direction of Walter H. Wischmeier. The Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), released in 1965 and updated in 1978, was developed from data collected at the NRSLDC. The USLE is recognized as one of the most significant developments in soil and water conservation in the 20th century. The Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation was released in 1997 as an updated computerized form of the USLE. Several erosion control practices currently recommended for use on agricultural areas were adopted, developed, refined, and tested at the SCES. Data obtained from the SCES have been used in the development and testing of several erosion and water quality models. It is a tribute to the dedicated employees of the SCES that information they collected during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s continues to be used by succeeding generations of conservationists and modelers.

Technical Abstract: Conservationists at the Soil Conservation Experiment Stations (SCES) were dedicated to the protection and preservation of our natural resources. The programs they developed for land use, soil protection, and water conservation have helped to maintain and improve the soil resource base upon which American agriculture is reliant. The soil and water conservation practices they adopted, developed, refined and tested continue to be used extensively today. Information collected by SCES employees was originally maintained as part of a hand written paper database. Processing and analysis of this enormous data set using equipment available in the 1950s was a monumental task. Since then, several erosion and water quality models have been developed utilizing data and information collected at the SCES. Each empirical erosion prediction equation represented state-of-the-art technology at the time of its release. These models were often used for several years then revised and updated. Newer prediction technology based upon the fundamental physical processes responsible for soil erosion has more recently been developed. A constant in each succeeding erosion prediction technology has been the source of field experimental runoff and erosion data used for model factor development, parameterization and/or testing: the unique and invaluable collective data set obtained from the SCES. It remains a paradox that hand written data meticulously collected by conservationists in a previous era serves as a critical component of technology developed for the electronic age. Thus, it is a tribute to early conservationists that their investment of time and resources in the SCES continues to provide dividends.

Last Modified: 11/24/2015
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