With all the water-quality regulations for urban stormwater runoff, construction-site runoff, and industrial stormwater runoff, the relative lack of oversight on agricultural lands has been a sore spot for many water-quality and erosion and sediment control professionals. As a recent federal court ruling demonstrated, even CAFOs—concentrated animal feeding operations—are sometimes exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act.
However, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is attempting to close this gap by working with farmers to improve water quality and to quantify the effects of various water-quality and conservation efforts. A $3 million effort to establish “edge-of-field” monitoring stations will provide data to farmers to help them gauge how well different techniques are working, such as reducing nutrient runoff from fertilizers, managing irrigation, and planting cover crops to reduce erosion.
The NRCS believes these measurements, taken right at the edge of the farmers’ fields, will be more convincing to farmers than measurements taken farther downstream where other variables might come in to play. Some farms have monitoring stations set up at different points to monitor the effects of different practices, such as cover crops vs. no cover crops or different types of plantings on various sections of a farm.
This year, farmers in Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Vermont are participating, and financial assistance is available in some states. Although overall results may be publicized, such as which types of practices are showing the greatest water-quality benefits, data from individual monitoring stations will not be shared outside the program.