conservation agriculture

Take Cover! (With Vegetation)

By Marguerite Huberbuffer

Take cover!

It’s a phrase you yell to protect against something headed your way. But did you ever think that phrase could be applied to pollutants? Well, it can – vegetative cover acts as a defense against non-point source (NPS) pollutants, protecting our lakes, streams, and water bodies.

Vegetative filter strips and riparian buffers  are conservation practices that help control the amount of sediment and chemicals that are transported from agricultural fields into water bodies. They slow down the speed of runoff and capture nutrients, keep more nutrient-rich topsoil on farmers’ fields, and reduces impacts on downstream ecosystems.

To improve water quality in large watersheds, conservation managers need to know what the problems are, where the pollutants originate, and what conservation practices work best.  However, investigating all of these factors at the watershed-wide level is a very difficult and complex task. This is why EPA is working with partners to supplement an existing watershed simulation model to estimate the efficiency of riparian buffers.

USDA’s watershed simulation model, Annualized Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution (AnnAGNPS), is used to evaluate the effect of farming and conservation practices on pollutants and help decide where to put these practices.  AnnAGNPS also predicts the origin and tracks the movement of water, sediment, and chemicals to any location in the watershed.

To supplement this model, researchers from EPA, USDA, and Middle Tennessee State University developed a Geographic Information Systems–based technology that estimates the efficiency of buffers in reducing sediment loads at a watershed scale.

With the addition of this AGNPS Buffer Utility Feature  technology to the USDA model, researchers and watershed conservation managers can evaluate the placement of riparian buffers, track pollution loads to their source, and assess water quality and ecosystem services improvements across their watersheds.

Riparian buffers and other vegetative cover, such as filter strips, are considered an important, effective, and efficient conservation practice that has been shown to protect ecosystem services at a local level. However, their full impact on a watershed-scale is still subject to ongoing research.

 

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Let’s Natuculture!

By Manny “The Mulch Hugger” Reyes

"The Mulch Hugger" in action.

For 20 years I have enjoyed working with awesome students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where I am making myself known as the ‘mulch hugger.’ 

I grew up in the Philippines totally unconcerned with nature.  I vividly remember my enjoyment in shooting beautiful tropical birds and collecting their eggs and my vision of converting forests into monoculture agriculture. 

Well, my passion has turned 180 degrees. Today I am working to promote the integration of natural systems into urban landscaping. 

Thanks to funding provided by EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) program, my students and I have began natuculture.  What’s “natuculture,” you ask? The term, coined at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T), refers to any human-made system that mimics nature in “human disturbed landscapes,” such as your typical college campus.  We introduced the term at the 2011 EPA-P3 conference.

We ‘natucultured’ a typical lawn (that is a monoculture of turf grass) into a vibrant, chemical-free ecosystem with at least 150 flora and visited by multiple kinds of fauna.  I dare say that this place can be the coolest student hangout on campus.  Adjacent to it, the University recently razed a building and has designated the area to be a ‘green park,’ which we intend to landscape exclusively with native North Carolina flora. 

Image of "natucultural" landscape showing biodiversity

"Natucultured" landscape on campus.

We are actively spreading ‘natuculture’ in several K-12 campuses.  Yup!!!! We designed and built a raingarden in an elementary school and installed six rainharvesters in six high school campuses. We are now establishing biologically engineered experiments to help us learn how to improve soil health while producing chemical-free vegetables.  

Furthermore, we are developing lesson plans to integrate natuculture in K-12 science courses and organizing a natuculture scientific conference for high school students.  NCA&T faculty and students are actively partnering with K-12 faculty and are mentors to K-12 students.

About the Author: Guest blogger Manuel R. Reyes is a Professor of Biological Engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He helped start Kingfisher Park, ‘a haven of biodiversity;’ in the Philippines, and works to advocate agroecology in Southeast Asia through agroforestry and conservation agriculture technologies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.