Ecosystem Services in Agricultural Watersheds
The Chippewa River watershed faces many serious environmental problems such as water quality degradation, threats to biodiversity, and increased flooding. Agricultural practices have contributed to these problems, but they can also contribute to solutions. Through this appropriation, the Chippewa River Watershed Project and the Land Stewardship Project are collaborating to pilot an innovative approach that works with farmers to combine community-based markets for alternative crops and products with utilization of conservation incentives programs to achieve the level of landscape change needed to meet water quality goals and other environmental objectives.
OVERALL PROJECT OUTCOME AND RESULTS
The Chippewa River Watershed (CRW) subbasin of the Minnesota River has extensive corn and soybeans, grazing livestock, diminishing longer crop rotations and natural systems. Stream and lake impairments in the CRW include turbidity, bacteria, and excessive nutrients. The LCCMR project is part of the ongoing Chippewa 10% Project (C10) that includes: stream monitoring, mapping sensitive areas, modeling cropping systems with historical and future climate to predict changes and extensive farmer engagement through individual contacts, organizing four farmer learning networks and connecting farmers to markets, conservation incentives and technical assistance. We held a total of twelve educational events attracting 494 people with Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) and other funding. Partners developed four networks working with 63 farmers and landowners on 8500 acres with ENRTF and other funding. These will continue and grow past the completion of this project. Networks and events developed during this time with assistance from other funding, as detailed in the report, include:
- Women Caring for the Land network with 15 women landowners engaged in conservation efforts on their land
- Nitrogen management network with 8 farmers utilizing soil tests, corn stalk nitrate tests and nitrogen management strategies
- Soil Health workshop with 270 attendees
The goals for the ENRTF project were to identify sensitive fields on 10% of corn and soybean fields, engage landowners with information about benefits of diversification, including available conservation incentives and markets, and monitor for changes on fields. ENRTF funds and other funding accomplished these deliverables to achieve the goals:
- Mapped three focal areas based on water quality monitoring, multi-year crop rotations and scenarios for diversifying 110,000 acres to rotational grazing, forage strips at the toe of steep fields, longer rotations on poorer soils or cover crops;
- Calculated Ecosystem Service Coefficients (ESC) using the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator model for localized future climate and included warm season grass and grazing operations;
- Modeling predicted decreases of 16% sediment load and 7% NO2-NO3 nitrogen load when converting sensitive fields to perennial crops;
- Integrated ESC into the Hydrologic Simulation Program - Fortran for the CRW;
- Conducted one-on-one interviews and follow-up with 74 landowners;
- Networks developed included: 1) The 25-landowner Simon Lake Challenge, a landscape-scale grazing network on 6,000 acres; and 2) Cover crop network of 15 farmers on 943 acres; soil biological activity was monitored with soil tests on 150 acres, showing higher soil moisture from cover crops resulted in higher biological activity in the fall;
- Five educational events attracting 165 people;
- Published multiple articles and a website (http://landstewardshipproject.org/stewardshipfood/foodsystemslandstewardship/chippewa10).
PROJECT RESULTS USE AND DISSEMINATION
Within the team and beyond, interaction with research scientists, agency personnel, farmers and nonprofit staff create opportunities for longer-term engagement. These opportunities may help bring about land management and landscape changes that result in increased ecosystem goods and services along with better community support.
We have learned together that:
- There are many benefits associated with grazing systems and longer-term rotations.
- Riverine or stream systems can be very flashy in terms of flow, and by extension, ecosystem services the more corn and soybeans dominate the landscape.
- Market signals can sometimes be amplified, distorted or misinterpreted so that the price of one commodity can drive behavior in a direction that may not necessarily be benefiting farmers in the long run.
- It may be possible to tie monitoring, modeling and on-farm changes in practices by linking scenarios, modeling diverse production systems, stream monitoring linked to land-cover, and on-farm practices being monitored with and by farmers and demonstrated through farmer networks.
- Better modeling output can be developed if research scientists work with applied scientists, extension personnel, producers and nonprofit staff to generate information from models on different grazing systems, conventional and organic production systems and different weather patterns.
Based on the strength of the Chippewa 10% Project and its partners and modeling, the Chippewa River Watershed was chosen the by United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service to be part of the Long-term Agroecological Research Sites (LTAR). This was officially announced in 2012 and funding allocated to North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris for this purpose in 2013.
The Chippewa 10% Project regularly provides opportunities for farmers and landowners to learn about new approaches they may not be familiar with. For example, most of the farmers we have engaged who graze ruminant livestock use continuous grazing or a very non-intense, low-level management, e.g., moving the animals every 8 days. Early winter of 2013 we brought a group of farmers to a presentation on soil health building strategies. A number of them were quite taken with a presentation by North Dakota rancher Gene Goven who has increased the productivity of his grasslands to boost his cattle stocking rate by 400%. He did so using sound planning strategies, fundamental soil-building techniques, and building diversity of flora and fauna above and below his soil, not by acquiring more land or throwing money at his challenges.
Since then we have selected a few farmers from the group who are open to the message of planning for a grazing system that is multi-functional, improving profit, water quality, wildlife habitat and soil health, and gave them an intense two day course on the Holistic Planning techniques they could use to move their farms toward those goals. Seven farmers participated, some enthusiastically embracing the approach and expressing willingness to show others what they're doing and provide some coaching for friends and neighbors.
LSP staff working in the Root River Watershed were engaged to learn about GIS and outreach techniques and begin to plan for and apply them in Minnesota's Root River Watershed.
The Chippewa 10% Project has shared information through conference presentations at National Institute of Food and Agriculture Project Directors meeting, two Green Lands Blue Waters conferences about watersheds in IA and MN, the 4th Interagency Conference on Research on the Watershed in Anchorage, AK, the MOSES conference in La Crosse and several other in-state venues with staff from multiple agencies.
In addition we are sharing information for the general public through extensive coverage in the Land Stewardship Letter published by the Land Stewardship Project and front page coverage through AgriNews in November, 2013.
We have held 9 field days with 166 attendees over the course of this project and several workshops on cover crops, grazing, markets and conservation programs. There have been eight team meetings over the period.
A list of other reports and posters appended to the project is as follows:
- Rohweder, J.R, G. Boody, S. Vacek. 2012. Modeling Important Bird Habitat Using Multiple Alternative Land Cover Scenarios within the Chippewa River Watershed, Minnesota. US Geological Survey.
- A study by USGS paid for with funds by National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
- DeVore, B. 2012. Feeding the subterranean herd: How putting soil at the center could help revitalize farmland...& farming. September to December 2012. Land Stewardship Project
- Olson, K, et al. 2013. The Chippewa 10% Project: Achieving Needed Ecosystem Services in an Agricultural Watershed. Poster and presentation at the Green Lands Blue Waters annual conference section on watersheds. November 20-21, 2013. Minneapolis, MN. Published by Land Stewardship Project.
- LSP et al. 2013. Farmer/Landowner Outreach and Organizing in the Chippewa and Root River Watersheds: Achieving a healthy ecosystem in agricultural watersheds. Poster presented at Green Lands Blue Waters annual conference section on watersheds. November 20-21, 2013. Minneapolis, MN. Published by Land Stewardship Project.
- Jaradat, A.A, J. Starr, G. Boody. 2014. Comparative Assessment of Organic and Conventional Production of Row Crops under Climate Change: Empirical and Simulated Yield Variation in the Chippewa River Watershed, MN. Poster at MOSES conference on Organic Farming. La Crosse, WI. February 2014
Materials are being added to the Chippewa 10% Project website at http://landstewardshipproject.org/stewardshipfood/foodsystemslandstewardship/chippewa10. A related website is http://landstewardshipproject.org/stewardshipfood/foodsystemslandstewardship/soilquality. LCCMR and other funders are acknowledged on these websites.
In addition, research papers were published with other funding. More research will be published that references ENTRF funding.
$247,000 is from the trust fund to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the Chippewa River Watershed Project to develop local food and perennial biofuels markets coupled with conservation incentives to encourage farmers to diversify land cover in the Chippewa River Watershed supporting improvement to water quality and habitat. This appropriation is available until June 30, 2013, by which time the project must be completed and final products delivered.
Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".
Click on "Final Report" under "Project Details".