USDA grant provides an opportunity to improve agricultural water quality

Grant will support the development of an online tool for farmers to improve water quality.

Saturated buffer
Saturated buffer. Photo by Ehsan Ghane, MSU.

Michigan State University (MSU) Assistant Professor and agricultural drainage Extension specialist Ehsan Ghane will lead a U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant (NRCS CIG). The project seeks to improve agricultural water quality by accelerating the adoption of saturated buffers.

A saturated buffer reduces nitrate loss from subsurface-drained fields. Too much nitrate in surface water causes low levels of oxygen (hypoxia), resulting in fish kills.

As part of the project, researchers will develop an online, user-friendly tool to improve the design of saturated buffers on specific farms. Farmers want to protect water quality while producing crops. This tool will show them the water quality benefit of a saturated buffer on their farm.  

The online tool will show the best saturated buffer design that removes more nitrate at the lowest cost. The tool will also quantify nitrate load reduction on specific farms. This information can be used to build nutrient trading programs where farmers receive payment for reducing nitrate loss from their farm. Nutrient trading programs will incentivize saturated buffer adoption, thus accelerating adoption of this practice.

The online tool will undergo testing by farmers and practitioners to make sure the tool is user-friendly and practical before being released to the public. Once the tool is developed, Michigan State University Extension will offer a workshop, factsheet and training video to educate people on how to use the tool.

A well-qualified team with diverse backgrounds will help to achieve the grant goals. Pouyan Nejadhashemi, MSU Foundation Professor, will lead the development of the online tool. Research Associate Manal H. Askar, Research Specialist Babak Saravi,  and graduate student Yousef AbdalAal are also on the research team. Ricardo Costa, MSU Extension educator, will co-lead the educational component in Michigan. Other key partners include North Carolina State University, Iowa State University, Purdue University, and the Iowa Soybean Association. For more information on the grant, read “MSU researcher receives USDA grant to develop improved drainage systems for farms.”

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