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Putting a value on conservation practices

TAGS: Water
Photos courtesy of SDSU Extension A man kneeling down in a field and examining crops
TRACKING WATER: John McMaine, assistant professor and South Dakota State University Extension water management engineer, heads up a research project that looks at conservation practices and their impact on water management on the farm.
Farmers needed to take part in South Dakota watershed research project.

New research at South Dakota State University hopes to provide farmers with a dollar value of conservation practices due to improved water management.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service awarded a Conservation Collaboration Grant to SDSU and The Nature Conservancy for a water quantity risk research project in southeastern South Dakota.

The $887,687 grant funds a project to address implementing soil health and edge-of-field practices to mitigate water quantity risk at the field and watershed scale and provide a roadmap for applying these practices.

Focus on water

John McMaine, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and SDSU Extension water management engineer, serves as the principal investigator for the project.

“There is evidence that soil health and other conservation practices can improve water management at the field scale during both dry and wet times,” McMaine said in a news release. “This research will measure impact of conservation practices on water risk (too much or too little) at the field level, which translates to improved yield, profit and resilience for the farmer.”

He says the research will also address economic viability of conservation for farmers.

But the research goes beyond the farm field, it also looks at the impact at the watershed scale. The team hopes to quantify how conservation practices can reduce soil moisture risk by preserving a little more of that early season moisture for the dry summer months, which should translate to a yield bump. It will also address whether conservation practices reduce flood risk downstream.

Help from farmers

Researchers chose the Willow Creek watershed, located northwest of Sioux Falls, S.D., for the project. Its size, which amounts to about 30,000 acres, makes it small enough that improvements could be measured if widespread implementation is achieved.

The project will monitor soil moisture in approximately 30 fields in the watershed, along with meteorological data, economic variables and social science survey data.

A map outlining Willow Creek Watershed in the Southeastern area of South DakotaRESEARCH AREA: The Willow Creek watershed, located northwest of Sioux Falls, S.D., was selected as the location for a research project led by South Dakota State University and The Nature Conservancy. The two received a grant to help with funding.

Project researchers are looking for farmers in the watershed to participate. They intend to install field monitoring equipment in Spring 2021. The project runs two years and concludes in August 2023.

“A lot of investment goes into conservation, and it can sometimes be random acts of conservation rather than an optimal investment system that can actually achieve watershed objectives,” McMaine said. “What we hope to do here is to pilot methods to optimize that investment.”

Project components

The three main components of the research include:

1. Analyzing and demonstrating how watershed modeling can help plan, target and predict environmental and agricultural benefits of practice implementation.

2. Field-scale monitoring and watershed scale modeling for demonstration of landscape performance in dealing with water quantity issues and validation of modeling accuracy.

3. Determining barriers and drivers for producer adoption to improve the environmental and economic performance of working agricultural lands through social and economic analyses.

In addition to team members from SDSU and The Nature Conservancy, collaborators from South Dakota Corn, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, Minnehaha Conservation District, Minnehaha County Farm Bureau, South Dakota Farm Bureau and Friends of the Big Sioux River will assist in the project.

For more information on the project contact McMaine at 605-688-5610 or john.mcmaine@sdstate.edu

Source: SDSU Extension, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.
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