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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Research Project #432574

Research Project: Sustaining Agroecosystems and Water Resources in the Northeastern U.S.

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

2020 Annual Report

Objective 1: Describe and quantify processes controlling agriculturally related environmental contaminants (C, N, and P) to reduce inputs to receiving waters (C2, PS 2.1). Subobjective 1.1: Characterize chemical, physical and biological controls of contaminant mobility and transport in water at pedon, field, landscape and watershed scales. Subobjective 1.2: Characterize the spatial nature and temporal dynamics of transport pathways connecting sources of key agricultural contaminants with surface and ground waters. Objective 2: Adapt and develop management practices that farmers can use to reduce the environmental impacts of agriculturally derived contaminants on receiving waters (C1: PS 1.5; C2: PS 2.4; C3: PS 3.1 and 3.2; C4: PS 4.2). Subobjective 2.1: Identify, evaluate, and develop fertilizer, manure, tillage, irrigation and drainage management practices that improve production use efficiency and minimize off site transfers to surface and ground waters. Subobjective 2.2: Develop new technologies, management practices and decision support tools that recognize the spatial variability of the landscape and focus mitigating efforts on critical source areas or critical pathways. Objective 3: Conduct plot, field and watershed studies to understand processes that link cranberry production to water resources and develop appropriate conservation practices to protect water quality (C1: PS 1.5; C2: PS 2.4; C3: PS 3.1 and 3.2; C4: PS 4.2; NP305 C1: PS 1B). Subobjective 3.1: Characterize temporal and spatial patterns of N and P discharge from cranberry farms. Subobjective 3.2: Develop new technologies and management practices that improve water quality and enhance water use efficiency on cranberry farms. Objective 4: As part of the LTAR network, and in concert with similar long-term, land-based research infrastructure in the mid-Atlantic Region, use the Upper Chesapeake Bay Experimental Watersheds 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 region. 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 includes research and data management in support of the ARS GRACEnet and/or Livestock GRACEnet projects. (C4: PS 4.1; NP 212 C1: PS 1B; NP 216 C5: PS 5A) Subobjective 4.1: Support the LTAR common observatory by monitoring and modeling long term changes affecting water resources and contributing to LTAR’s common database. Subobjective 4.2: Support LTAR’s common experiment and Dairy Agro-ecological Working Group (DAWG) water research objectives by comparing water resource impacts of a long term conventional dairy forage rotation (corn, soybean, and alfalfa) with a diversified dairy forage rotation that, in addition, includes winter cover crops, perennial grasses for bioenergy feedstock, and grazed pasture.

Research will span the Chesapeake Bay and Buzzards Bay watersheds, relying upon core sites in the Atlantic Coastal Plain (Manokin watershed, MD; Buzzards Bay watershed, MA), Appalachian Piedmont (Conewago watershed, PA), Appalachian Valley and Ridge (Mahantango Creek watershed, PA and Spring Creek watershed, PA), and Allegheny Plateau (Anderson Creek watershed, PA). Research emphases will vary across these locations, reflecting issues that are of current management or scientific relevance as well as constraints imposed by available resources. Our primary distinction is between the Atlantic Coastal Plain (in the Chesapeake and Buzzards Bay watersheds) and the upland physiographic areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, as hydrologic flow paths are dramatically different in these landscapes (subsurface flow is the dominant hydrologic pathway in the Atlantic Coastal Plain, whereas overland and shallow lateral flows are the major pathways in the upland provinces). We have landowner contacts and research collaborators at all major (core) sites and have a research infrastructure that enables routine measurement and chemical sampling of surface runoff, subsurface flow, and stream flow. When necessary, we move infrastructure from one location to another to provide a greater intensity of observations. We combine field observations with laboratory experiments in which greater control may be obtained over indirect variables. Our process-oriented research (Objective 1) involves observational and experimental studies, using parametric and nonparametric statistics to quantify temporal and spatial trends or to determine differences between management/land use, landscape units, and watershed components. Our applied research (Objectives 2-4) includes experimental studies, remote sensing and modeling. Experimentation involves a high degree of replication due to the inherent variability in processes impacting water quality. We have strong in-house statistical capability and, when necessary, consult with outside statisticians to ensure confidence in our findings.

Progress Report
Results from the wetlands lysimeter study confirm that wetlands are a sink for organic forms of phosphorus, but inorganic phosphorus leaches through the lysimeters. The first year of data from the manure priming study resulted in significantly greater yield on plots amended with manure solids compared to mineral fertilizer. Plots were replanted for the 2020 growing season and soil samples were collected. Soils cannot be analyzed until the Penn State Ag Analytical Laboratory and the Cornell Soil Health Laboratory reopen following the COVID-19 shutdown. Field site monitoring of urea has been completed and a manuscript has been submitted for publication. Microbial populations associated with urea production have been characterized and results will be reported in a Ph.D. dissertation later this year. All sampling and data analysis on the riparian seep project are complete, and the results are summarized in a Penn State Master’s thesis authored by Brian Redder in 2019. A manuscript for publication is forthcoming. Transit time modeling with chloride was accomplished in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, and the results are summarized in paper that was recently published in Water Resources Research. Transit time modeling with stable isotopes is planned for later in 2020. A paper describing the plot-scale studies with ERI was recently published in Journal of Hydrology (Robinson et al., 2020), and a manuscript summarizing the results of isotopic studies of ditch drainage and dissolved P loss is in development. The manure injection study was extended by one year in order to collect additional data. The 2020 season was to be the additional year, but due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel and field work, manure could not be injected. The plots are being maintained using mineral fertilizers with the intent to collect additional manure injection data next year. The late fall manure application study is complete. Results are summarized in a 2019 Master’s thesis, and a manuscript is in development. Plots used for the gypsum application study were planted to soybeans last year in order to manage a weed problem. Corn has been planted this year and runoff and leaching data will be collected if Covid-19 restrictions permit. Instead of working with beef manure, the MAPHEX System’s efficiency at removing phosphorus from swine manure was tested, and a manuscript has been accepted for publication. The MAPHEX System achieved greater than 97% phosphorus removal efficiency at an even lower cost than treating dairy manure. Nitrogen reducing bioreactor performance is published in Ag & Environ. Letters. The effectiveness of CREP riparian buffers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is summarized and reported to the Farm Security Administration and Natural Resources Conservation Service. (Soil Water Assessment Tool) SWAT simulations of decision support tool scenarios are not being conducted as planned due to the loss of a post doc who was planning to do this work. However, a manuscript that quantifies the effectiveness of the Fertilizer Forecaster is in development. All milestones related to cranberry bog management are complete. A journal article describing the application of amendments to reduce phosphorus loss from cranberry bogs was published in the Journal of Environmental Quality. Five high frequency monitoring sensors have been tested at the Long-Term Agroecosystems Research (LTAR) water quality monitoring facility. Sufficient data have been collected, but summarizing the results has been slowed by COVID-19 restrictions. Efforts to modify Topo-SWAT to account for daily variations in atmospheric CO2 and its attendant effects on the water balance are described in a manuscript that is currently in review. Later this year, a former post doc plans to use this new version of Topo-SWAT to evaluate land-use and climate change in three Upper Chesapeake LTAR watersheds. An Integrated Farm Systems Model evaluation of diversified dairy forage rotations has been completed for Pennsylvania. Planned crop rotations for the LTAR common experiment have been established for the 2020 growing season. As a minimum, yield data for the various treatments will be collected, but we may have to forego some measurements this year due to COVID-19 restrictions that may prevent teams of researchers from collecting samples and data.

1. Terrestrial sources of urea can promote toxic algal blooms. Global increases in the frequency and toxicity of algal blooms in coastal waters are raising concerns over agricultural use of urea, the most common form of commercial nitrogen (N) fertilizer. USDA researchers at University Park, Pennsylvania, and colleagues from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Penn State University evaluated urea transport in field drainage, runoff, and stream water within an agricultural basin on Maryland's Atlantic Coastal Plain. They showed that runoff of recently applied urea in early spring is usually dilute below levels of environmental concern. However, in summer months, stagnant water in small field ditches and wetlands create ideal conditions for microbial production of urea that flushes into local streams.

Review Publications
Kleinman, P.J., Spiegal, S.A., Liu, J., Holly, M., Church, C., Ramirez Avila, J. 2020. Managing animal manure to minimize phosphorus losses from land to water. In: Waldrip, H.M., Pagliari, P.H., Zhongqi, H., editors. Animal Manure: Production, Characteristics, Environmental Concerns, and Management, Volume 67. Madison, WI: ASA Special Publication, Soil Science Society of America Monograph Series. p. 201-228.
Kleinman, P.J., Fanelli, R.M., Hirsch, R.M., Buda, A.R., Easton, Z., Wainger, L., Brosch, C., Lowenfish, M., Collick, A., Shirmohammadi, A., Boomer, K., Hubbart, J., Bryant, R.B., Shenk, G.W. 2019. Phosphorus and the Chesapeake Bay – Lingering issues and emerging concerns for agriculture. Journal of Environmental Quality. 1-13.
Drohan, P., Bechmann, M., Buda, A.R., Djodjic, F., Doody, D., Duncan, J.M., Iho, A., Jordan, P., Mcdowell, R., Melander, P., Thomas, I., Withers, P. 2019. A global perspective on the history of phosphorus management decision support approaches in agriculture: Lessons learned and directions for the future. Journal of Environmental Quality. (48):1218-1233.
Wagena, M.B., Goering, D., Collick, A., Bock, E., Fuka, D.R., Buda, A.R., Easton, Z.M. 2020. Comparison of short-term streamflow forecasting using stochastic time series, neural networks, physical, and bayesian models. Journal of Environmental Modeling and Software. (126):1-10.
Taabodi, M., May, E.B., Bryant, R.B., Saporito, L.S., Skeen, O., Hashem, F.M., Allen, A.L. 2020. Aeromonas hydrophila, bacillus thuringiensis, escherichia coli and pseudomonas aeruginosa utilization of ammonium-N, nitrate-N and urea-N in culture. Heliyon. 6:1-9.e03711.
Plummer, R.E., Hapeman, C.J., Rice, C., McCarty, G.W., Schmidt, W.F., Downey, P.M., Moorman, T.B., Douglass, E.A., Strickland, T.C., Pisani, O., Bosch, D.D., Elkin, K.R., Buda, A.R. 2020. Method to evaluate the age of groundwater inputs to surface waters by determining the chirality change of metolachlor ethanesulfonic acid (MESA) captured on a polar organic chemical integrative sampler (POCIS). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 68(8):2297-2305.
Baffaut, C., Baker, J.M., Biederman, J.A., Bosch, D.D., Brooks, E.S., Buda, A.R., Demaria, E.M., Elias, E.H., Flerchinger, G.N., Goodrich, D.C., Hamilton, S.K., Hardegree, S.P., Harmel, R.D., Hoover, D.L., King, K.W., Kleinman, P.J., Liebig, M.A., McCarty, G.W., Moglen, G.E., Moorman, T.B., Moriasi, D.N., Okalebo, J., Pierson Jr, F.B., Russell, E.S., Saliendra, N.Z., Saha, A.K., Smith, D.R., Yasarer, L.M. 2020. Comparative analysis of water budgets across the U.S. long-term agroecosystem research network. Journal of Hydrology. 588.
Kennedy, C.D., Buda, A.R., Bryant, R.B. 2020. Forms of nitrogen and phosphorus export from an agricultural peatland. Hydrological Processes. 1-14.