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ARS Home » Midwest Area » St. Paul, Minnesota » Soil and Water Management Research » Research » Research Project #432419

Research Project: Developing Agricultural Practices to Protect Water Quality and Conserve Water and Soil Resources in the Upper Midwest United States

Location: Soil and Water Management Research

Project Number: 5062-12130-007-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: May 22, 2017
End Date: May 21, 2022

1. Develop irrigation and drainage strategies in the North Central United States to protect water and soil resources a. Determine the potential of amendments to mitigate leaching and contamination of groundwater from agricultural operations. b. Identify materials and designs that will maximize contaminant removal from subsurface drainage water. 2. Identify and test innovative management practices to reduce potential adverse impacts on water quality or conserve water resources. a. Evaluate the effectiveness of low-input turf and management practices to reduce contaminant transport with runoff. b. Identify and test management practices to reduce reactive nitrogen leakage from dairy farming systems. c. Determine the impact of perenniallizing practices on the nutrient and water balances of corn/soybean systems. d. Determine the influence of management practices and water conservation strategies on water use and the occurrence and fate of contaminants in urban agriculture. 3. Conduct research as part of the LTAR network, and in concert with similar long-term, land-based research infrastructure in the U.S., use the Upper Mississippi River Basin LTAR site to improve the observational capabilities and data accessibility of the LTAR network and support research to sustain or enhance agricultural production and environmental quality in agroecosystems characteristic of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Research and data collection are planned and implemented based on the LTAR site application and in accordance with the responsibilities outlined in the LTAR Shared Research Strategy, a living document that serves as a roadmap for LTAR implementation. Participation in the LTAR network and test innovative management practices to reduce potential adverse impacts on water quality or conserve water resources includes research and data management in support of the ARS GRACEnet and DAWG projects.

Protecting the integrity and supply of our water resources is one of the most important issues we will face this century and therefore the foundation of our project’s objectives (objectives 1 and 2). Our research approach requires laboratory to field scale investigations focusing on two strategies, prevention and mitigation. With the prevention strategy we will identify and understand the fate of potential water contaminants (e.g. agrochemicals: fertilizer, pesticides; anthropogenic compounds) and develop practices to prevent or minimize the off-site transport of contaminants from their site of application or point of origin. For instance, we will evaluate the fate of biochar and its efficacy as a soil amendment to reduce the leaching of agrochemicals (subobjective 1a), management practices to minimize agrochemical transport with storm runoff from low-input turf (subobjective 2a.1), and the occurrence of contaminants in urban agricultural systems and the influence of water conservation and management practices on contaminant availability (subobjective 2d). In addition, we will determine the influence of perennial cover crops and the use of different irrigation and nitrogen rates to reduce transport of nutrients with runoff and drainage from row crops subobjective 2c). Model simulations will also be used to predict nitrate loads in tile drainage from a concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) dairy and simulate the efficacy of alternative practices to reduce loads (subobjective 2b). In circumstances where contaminants are transported off-site with overland flow or leaching, mitigation strategies will be taken to remove contaminants from runoff and tile drainage before they reach surface waters or groundwater. Mitigation approaches include plot-scale studies to identify optimal buffer size and management of low-input turf for the removal of contaminants transported with runoff (subobjective 2a.2), while field and modeling experiments will identify the most effective bioreactor design and materials for removing nutrients from subsurface drainage water (subobjective 1b). Laboratory, field, and small watershed studies will be employed to enhance and extend the research that has been initiated to develop aspirational farming practices (ASP) for the Upper Mississippi River Basin and to compare their environmental and economic metrics against business as usual (BAU) farming practices in the region. Management practices that will be explored include maintenance of continuous living cover in sensitive locations on the landscape, and downstream or down-gradient practices that remove excess nutrients and reduce N2O emissions. Our multidisciplinary team and the interrelationship of our project subobjectives within and across these strategies will make progress towards the national goal for improved water resource security.