Feeding our crops, greening our cities, protecting the Great Lakes landscape

Effective agricultural and urban management practices to protect water quality require an understanding of how and when nutrients move across the landscape, and which management practices are most likely to be successful in preventing nutrient loss.

Three-stage livestock nutrient treatment and sub-irrigation system. Photo by Tim Harrigan | MSU Extension

Three-stage livestock nutrient treatment and sub-irrigation system. Photo by Tim Harrigan | MSU Extension

Managing crop nutrients is essential for crop growth and profitability, but crop nutrients that escape from the field endanger the Great Lakes and surface waters. Cropland is nutrient-rich and runoff from the farmstead, pastures and fields can transport sediment, organic solids, nutrients and other contaminants to surface waters. Cropping practices that stabilize the soil and quickly move crop nutrients into the root zone will protect water quality and build soil health. Urban stormwater and on-farm nutrient management has greatly improved in recent years, yet water quality problems associated with algae blooms and oxygen depletion persist in Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay and other waterways.

Much of the most productive cropland in the Great Lakes Region has been improved with subsurface tile drains, and modern tillage and planting systems are driven by site-specific management. Research results and on-farm observation has shown that while conservation tillage reduces runoff and sedimentation, nutrient-enriched water from rainfall, snowmelt and other sources can quickly move crop nutrients over the surface or to subsurface drains by natural channels in the soil formed by plant roots, soil fauna, and other natural conditions. Innovative stormwater management and in-stream surface water improvements in urban areas can greatly reduce nutrient and contaminant runoff and water degradation.

Effective agricultural and urban management practices to protect water quality require an understanding of how nutrients move across the landscape, when nutrients move, and which management practices are most likely to be successful in preventing nutrient loss. On March 4, A Matter of Balance: Systems Approaches to Managing Great Lakes Landscapes conference will be hosted at Michigan State University. Conference speakers will include national and international experts and experienced livestock producers who will explain how water and nutrients move in the soil and impact water quality at the edge of the field and in the Great Lakes. Attendees will learn:

  • How the interaction of weather, agricultural management practices, and nutrient and sediment movement impacts streams and surface waters
  • Practical management options for capturing and nitrogen, phosphorus and other potential contaminants in the root zone for crop growth.
  • How advances in predicting the risk of runoff can help land managers do a better job of planning and timing field operations to keep crop nutrients on the field.
  • Practical examples of how livestock farmers are managing the farming system throughout the year to protect water quality and build soil health.
  • Examples of cost effective solutions and flexible options for stormwater management to accelerate water quality protection and in-stream surface water improvements.

A Matter of Balance: Systems Approaches to Managing Great Lakes Landscapes will be held on Friday, March 4 from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. at the Kellogg Center on the Michigan State University campus. Pre-registration is open until February 29. A conference agenda, speaker and registration information and additional details are available at the SWCS website and through this link Conference Registration and Information. The conference is organized by the Michigan Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society