The chief of the National Resources Conservation Service, Dave White, released findings of a Great Lakes Watershed Study today that shows improvement through conservation effort s in the Great Lakes Region. This was the third in a series of 14 evaluation reports on various NRCS efforts that will eventually be released.
The report summarizes intensive sampling from 1,400 confidential locations from 2003 to 2006 in the Great Lakes region, including Michigan, parts of Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Farmers in the area were interviewed, but even the farmers didn't know where the 1,400 points were located.
Information was collected at these points about soil type, soil properties, plus type of tillage going on there. The information was used to help develop models to make assessments based on the information collected. Part of the delay in releasing the report was so that the models could be tweaked, White said. Expect more rapid release of information in the future.
Four take-away points stand out from the conclusions, White asserts. First, conservation works! "Our models estimate that conservation cut sediment loss by 50% during this three-year period," he says. "In other words, without the conservation efforts, sediment load would have doubled. We also saw a 36% decline in Phosphate loading and a 37% decline in nitrogen loading during the same period."
The second message is that more work needs to be done, even if budgets are tight and could get tighter, White says. He believes the answer is being more efficient and targeting areas that can return the most benefit for dollars spent.
The report classifieds 2.8 million acres in the watershed as needing the most attention, and another 5 million acres were said to have moderate needs. "If we could reach those acres most in need, we could produce a lot of benefits very quickly," he says.
The third take-away point from the Great Lakes report is that conservation systems work best, compared to individual practices scattered here and there, White noted. For example, the various tools in the conservation tool kit, such as terraces and conservation tillage need to be used together to meet the objectives of reducing sediment and controlling nutrient loading at the same time.
His fourth point, once again, was to stress that the greatest impact would come from making changes on those acres most at risk for contributing to erosion and nutrient loading problems. In fact, he estimates that on high-risk actress, the rewards might be up to 40 times greater than on average acres not particularly at risk for erosion.
Manage for success
White intends for NRCS teams to use a three-pronged approach to implementing and solving erosion and water quality problems in these target areas. It involves three key words- avoid, control and trap. "We want nitrogen management to be about applying the right product at the right time with the right source," he says. "Equipment now on the market that reads chlorophyll levels and adjusts N rates accordingly should help."
The control element refers to implementing the right mix of practices to control potential erosion. And finally, trap refers to utilizing practices such as filter or buffer strips and wetlands to filter out and remove nutrients that might otherwise leave the field and become a water quality issue.
"If there are budget cuts in the future, my job will be to work with those and use the resources we have to be as effective as possible," White says.