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UWP Researches Impacts of Ag Practices on Water Quality
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 07/14/2008

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville's Pioneer Farm is increasing its research capacity to more adequately evaluate agronomic and environmental practices and their effects on water quality. To accurately find the effect of practices such as nutrient management, tillage and conservation practices on water quality, Pioneer Farm is collecting paired data. Researchers have been monitoring paired basins--two to 60 acre areas where surface water drains--throughout the farm. These basins are similarly managed and have similar qualities, so that one can act as the control while the other receives the treatment. Each pair of basins goes through an extensive calibration period, where researchers collect data to make sure they are similar. When all the calibrations are complete, Pioneer Farm will have four pairs of basins with which it can do water quality research.

Researches have already used one of the paired basins, to research upland infiltration basins. The team installed two small holding ponds in the basin, designed to provide temporary water storage, enhance infiltration, reduce runoff and sediment loading, and decrease the amount of sediment that leaves the basin. The research proved that the ponds did in fact reduce the amount of sediment in the basin.

"The infiltration had a significant impact on nutrient and sediment losses from the watershed," said Dennis Busch, research manager of Pioneer Farm.

Once Pioneer Farm is able to research the impact of more practices, Busch believes it will in turn have a positive impact on other producers.

"When there is a question regarding how a practice will impact a farm, this is the place to find out not only how it will affect water quality but also how the practice affects other things like profitability. We implement and evaluate practices at Pioneer Farm using a systems approach," stated Busch.

The paired data approach to researching water quality came out of a 2007 evaluation of the research methods and infrastructure. The research team changed the primary focus of the surface water monitoring program from baseline data collection to paired data collection. While baseline data is valuable, it did not contribute to their mission of evaluation of agronomic and environmental practices. Since then, the research team has been installing new sites and modifying their infrastructure to the paired data approach.

The project is part of the Wisconsin Agricultural Stewardship Initiative, of which Pioneer Farm is a member.

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