Better nutrient management with edge-of-field monitoring

A new conservation program helps farmers retain crop nutrients. The 2015 deadline to apply is July 24.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

A new edge-of-field monitoring program allows the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to work with farmers and conservation partners, such as Michigan State University Extension and the River Raisin Watershed Council to evaluate crop nutrients leaving the field in water runoff. This program will help producers understand when and how nutrients escape from the field and thereby tailor management practices that capture nutrients in the root zone for crop use.

The advantage of edge-of-field monitoring compared to in-stream monitoring is that growers find out what nutrients are leaving their fields and not from upstream fields or urban sources. Farm confidentiality is protected by Section 1619 of the 2008 Farm Bill so that any information collected through the process monitoring cannot be shared without written consent of the landowner.

The 2015 deadline to apply is July 24. Interested farmers should contact their local USDA service center for more information.

In Michigan, edge-of-field monitoring is currently available in portions of Calhoun, Clinton, Genesee, Hillsdale, Lenawee, Monroe and Shiawassee Counties. Paired sites of approximately three to five acres in size are compared year-round for 6-9 years. The paired sites are selected to have similar soils and other characteristics. One field is left without conservation practices and the other field has one or two conservation practices beginning in the third year to learn how that practice protects soil and water quality.

The monitoring program was developed by United States Geological Survey and has rigorous standards including a data management plan. MSU‘s Institute for Water Research recently hosted an online training to explain the program’s technical requirements, equipment installation and sampling and contractual requirements.

Conservation practices that avoid, control or trap nutrients can be selected. Avoidance practices include cover crops, crop rotation, nutrient management, waste recycling and prescribed grazing. Control of nutrient loss includes irrigation water management, drainage water management, diversion and similar practices. Conservation practices that trap sediment and nutrients include filter strips, conservation covers, wetland restoration, riparian forest buffers and others. The edge-of-field program will not monitor groundwater.

Watershed organizations and others will benefit from the program and can collaborate with farmers by providing financial assistance, helping in the process of collecting the information and maintaining of the equipment. The program will provide a better understanding of the effectiveness of land management practices and the best conservation techniques to use in specific locations.

Financial assistance from NRCS provides about 75 percent of the cost of installation and maintenance for six to nine years. One of the overall goals of the program is to demonstrate that voluntary management practices can effectively protect and meet water quality goals.

The 2015 deadline to apply is July 24. Interested farmers should contact their local USDA service center for more information.

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