Friday, March 25, 2011

New USDA Initiative: Increasing the Adoption of the Management of Agricultural Drainage Water

On March 23 the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced at an “Increasing the Adoption of the Management of Ag Drainage Water” briefing and dialogue session that it is launching a new initiative to foster greater voluntary adoption of the management of agricultural drainage water by producers, especially in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. 

A June 2010 NRCS Conservation Effects Assessment Project (or "CEAP") Report entitled “Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Upper Mississippi River Basin,”  documented the progress made in reducing sediment, nutrient and pesticide losses from farmland through the implementation of a variety of conservation practices, but also noted that additional conservation treatment (primarily a more complete and consistent use of nutrient management) is needed to achieve additional, measurable environmental outcomes.   Important in achieving nutrient management is the greater management of water flow from tile drainage, where concentrations of nitrogen (primarily as nitrate) are often greater than in surface field runoff. 

In October 2010, the USDA NRCS proposed (draft) guidance on the implementation of its National Nutrient Management Strategy, informed by CEAP outcomes that identified improvements in water quality resulting from Nutrient Management Conservation Practice Standard planning.  That guidance (National Bulletin 450-11-4, National Nutrient Management Strategy Implementation) and supporting attachments relate directly to NRCS's new drainage water initiative, particularly in that it identifies “Drainage Water Management (DWM)”  as one of a suite of required Cropland Nutrient Management System Core Practices "to advance nutrient management and address growing concerns about the environmental impacts of nutrients lost from cropping systems."

The March 23  briefing included findings about the barriers to adoption, lessons learned, and recommendations to accelerate the greater implementation of the DWM initiative. NRCS plans to continue to solicit ideas and input from stakeholders and will hold at least one additional briefing on the matter before finalizing its ideas and formally launching the initiative.

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