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Computer Model Will Help Farmers Protect Yields and Water Quality

By Dennis Senft
July 18, 1997

A new computer model now in the works will help farmers better protect the environment while reaping maximum crop yields.

Developed by scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, the Root Zone Water Quality Model (RZWQM) shows how various farming practices affect soil water and movement of chemicals that might threaten surface and groundwater quality. Farmers can use this information to help them select the best tillage method, the safest times and types of irrigation and when to apply pesticide and fertilizer. The scientists say the model could be available to growers in three to five years.

Under a new cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with ARS, Water Resources Publications, LLC, of Englewood, Colo., will enhance the software package and make it easier to use.

The model--originally designed for use in research--may save some research dollars in the future. Traditionally, scientists who study pesticide’s passage through soil must measure the movement through each soil type encountered. But the model can calculate pesticide movement for different soil types.

Researchers could also use the model to help growers fine-tune precision farming. This approach uses satellite data to pinpoint crop nutrient deficiencies, pest problems and other conditions.

RZWQM has attracted interest from at least one major chemical company. That’s because the model might eliminate some preliminary field tests of new pesticide compounds. RZWQM could help a company to identify which compounds merit the thorough studies required by regulatory agencies.

The July issue of ARS’ Agricultural Research magazine has a story about the model. The story also is on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contact: Lajpat R. Ahuja, USDA-ARS Great Plains Systems Research Unit, Fort Collins, Colo., phone (970) 490-8315, fax (970) 490-8310,