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USDA Issues New CEAP Report and Environmental Indicators Report

September 6, 2012

On Thursday, August 30, NRCS Chief Dave White announced the release of the report Assessment of the Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Missouri River Basin.  The report is a comprehensive look at the effects of NRCS conservation practices on the approximately 510,000 square miles that the basin covers.

The basin extends from the Continental Divide through the northern Great Plains to the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, MO.  It includes all of Nebraska and parts of Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Twelve percent of all U.S. farms and 28 percent of all land in farms nationwide are in the Missouri River Basin.  The eastern part of the basin features mostly corn and soybeans while the western portion of the basin is dominated by wheat and other close‐grown crops.  Key findings of the report include:

  • Voluntary, incentives‐based conservation approaches are achieving results;
  • The most critical conservation concern in the region is excessive rates of wind erosion during dry periods, including wind-borne losses of nitrogen and phosphorus; and
  • Comprehensive conservation planning is essential and targeting critical acres improves effectiveness significantly.

The report found that 18 percent of the cropped acres in the basin have high or moderate level of need for additional conservation treatment with respect to soil erosion and nutrient management (other resource concerns did not factor into this part of the assessment).

Despite this relative good news, however, the report also found that only 24 percent of all cropped acres  in the basin are meeting all nutrient management criteria for both nitrogen and phosphorous, meaning 76 percent of acres need improvement with respect to nutrient management.

With respect to soil quality, the study found that 40 percent of all cropped acres in the region are losing or at least not gaining soil organic matter.

If additional conservation practices were implemented throughout the basin, the report estimates it could reduce runoff of sediment by an additional 28 percent, nitrogen by an additional 13 percent and phosphorus by an additional 12 percent.

The report also notes that cultivated acres in the basin are growing as a result of sodbusting previously uncultivated land in reaction to high commodity prices, bringing new and possibly extensive conservation challenges.

The Missouri River Basin report is the fifth of twelve regional reports on conservation practices on cropland that will be issued as part of the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP).  The Project is intended to assess the effects of conservation practices on the nation’s cropland, grazing lands, wetlands, wildlife and watersheds.  It is a multi-agency, multi-resource effort led by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.  Additional information is available on the NRCS CEAP webpage.

Also last week, USDA released its Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators (AREI) report for 2012.  The report examines how certain economic, environmental, and social indicators within agriculture have changed since 2006, when the last AREI report was published.

Indicators include farm real estate values, herbicide resistance, fertilizer consumption, and organic food sales, for example.  Key finding of the 50 page report include:

  • Traditionally, farmland values were driven largely by the returns from agricultural activities, but today in some regions farmland values are influenced by factors such as urban influence and income from hunting leases. As a result, cropland values in these regions greatly exceed their implied agricultural use value.
  • Between 1996 and 2007, herbicide use increased, and increasing glyphosate use on herbicide-tolerant crops and reduced diversity of weed management practices are associated with increased weed resistance.
  • Since 2004, nitrogen recovery rates (amount removed by harvested crop/amount applied) on corn and cotton have increased, and the shares of planted acreage where application rates exceed 125 percent of the crop’s agronomic need have decreased.  Phosphate recovery rates are relatively unchanged for corn and cotton.
  • In recent decades, on-farm irrigation efficiency—the share of applied water that is beneficially used by the crop—has increased.
  • From 2004 to 2011, organic food sales more than doubled from $11 billion to $25 billion, accounting for over 3.5 percent of food sales in 2011.

You can download a report summary or the full report from USDA’s Economic Research Service website.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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