Preventing nutrient loss from Indiana farms: watershed-scale pairing of cover crops and the two-stage ditch

  • Funded By: U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • ECI Investigators: Jennifer Tank, Sheila Christopher
  • Partners: Indiana Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Indiana Soybean Alliance & Corn Marketing Council, Indiana University, The Nature Conservancy, USDA National Resources Conservation Service, US Geological Survey, Walton Familty Foundation

Preventing nutrient loss from Indiana farms: watershed-scale pairing of cover crops and the two-stage ditch

The Indiana Watershed Initiative Regional Conservation Partnership Program (IWI RCPP) is pairing watershed scale implementation of winter cover crops and the two-stage ditch in two Indiana watersheds to reduce nutrient loss from fields and improve soil health.  These two conservation practices provide a practical solution to nutrient and sediment loss from cropland.  Based on preliminary research, a 40-45% reduction in nutrient loss is estimated to be conservatively achievable with winter cover crops paired with the two-stage ditch-but this remains to be tested at a true watershed scale.  The goal is adoption of cover crops on 85% of cropland and installation of the two-stage ditch along the majority of channelized ditch draining in the watersheds. 

The program assembles a diverse group of partners, such as local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, County Surveyors, The Nature Conservancy, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Geological Survey and researchers at the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University.

A key component of the project is to document the effect of these practices on environmental conditions (water & soil quality) and, using these data, estimate the full costs and benefits for both public and private interests. Researchers use high resolution monitoring of water and nutrient fluxes, soil sampling, and agronomic data provided by producers and partners to conduct an economic valuation and benefit-cost analysis at the watershed scale. 

Producers are likely to adopt these combined practices if they have evidence that the practices work and are economically beneficial.  In addition, the data will support modeling efforts that will allow for broader conclusions regarding the effectiveness of these conservation practices, regionally and beyond.

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