WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced today that USDA is awarding more than $2.5 million to five land-grant universities to study the effectiveness and practical application of conservation practices at the watershed level.

As part of the Conservation Effects Assessment Project, researchers and extension specialists will also study the environmental and economic impacts of watershed conservation practices in cooperation with producers in these watersheds.

"To be effective in our conservation efforts, we need to evaluate what works well and what can be improved upon," Johanns said. "These studies will help government, industry, and farmers and ranchers make the most environmentally sound conservation choices possible."

Each project, funded by the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, has research and extension components that examine conservation practices such as tillage, nutrient management, pest management, conservation buffers and water management. Research and extension investigators will work directly with farmers, ranchers, land-owners, local agencies, state agencies and other natural resource managers to help determine which conservation practices to install, where and when practices should be installed, the impact of the practices and how to maintain them.

Fiscal year 2006 grants were awarded to:

  • Kansas State University, $650,000. "Assessing the Impact of a Strategic Approach to Implementation of Conservation Practices."

  • Oregon State University, $640,000. "Assessing Trade-Offs Between Crop Production and Ecological Services: The Calapooia Basin."

  • Pennsylvania State University, $640,000. "Analysis of BMP Implementation Performance and Maintenance in Spring Creek, an Agriculturally-Influenced Watershed in Pennsylvania."

  • Purdue University, $650,000. "Watershed-Scale Evaluation of BMP Effectiveness and Acceptability: Eagle Creek Watershed, Indiana."

  • University of Nebraska - Lincoln, $180,272. "Effectiveness of Irrigated Crop Management Practices in Reducing Groundwater Nitrate Concentrations." Pending the availability of funds in FY 2007, this project will receive an additional $459,728.

  • CEAP's goal is to conduct a national assessment of environmental benefits and effects of 2002 Farm Bill programs: Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Security Program and Conservation Technical Assistance.

    CEAP consists of two components. One, the national assessment, will track environmental benefits that will allow for a direct comparison between benefits obtained and program expenditures. The second, the watershed-level assessments, will conduct more detailed evaluations of environmental benefits than is possible at the national scale, providing a framework for improving modeling capabilities and providing more research in assessing physical benefits of conservation practices at the watershed scale.

    CSREES and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service have jointly funded 13 CEAP watershed studies totaling $7.8 million dollars over the past three years. Additional information on CEAP, including other CSREES competitively awarded watershed studies, is available online.

    SOURCE: USDA news release.