Experiment station partnering with federal agencies in conservation study


TEMPLE - Texas Agricultural Experiment Station scientists are working cooperatively with several federal agencies in assessing the effectiveness of federally funded conservation initiatives as part of the 2002 Farm Bill.

The Conservation Effects Assessment Project examines conservation programs across the nation. It includes a watershed assessment study, which evaluates the benefits of conservation programs in selected U.S. watersheds including the Leon and Bosque rivers in Texas.

"This project has two main benefits," said Dr. Bill Dugas, director of the Texas A&M University System Blackland Research and Extension Center in Temple. "It will confirm and justify taxpayer funds for conservation programs on farms, and it sustains and enhances environmental quality."

The Experiment Station is receiving approximately $600,000 annually through 2007 for its participation in the project. The results will be taken back to Washington and used for a national assessment, Dugas said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Agriculture Research Service are the leading agencies in the project. They, along with the Experiment Station, are providing the data and models being used to show if the conservation programs are effective.

The report will include impacts of various agricultural and environmental policies on land management practices and the economy, while providing a performance analysis of the Conservation Service. The national assessment reporting period begins next year.

Two simulation model programs at the Temple research center will be used to assess outcomes the Soil and Water Assessment Tool, a model developed by USDA research scientists, and the Agriculture Policy/Environmental eXtender, developed by Experiment Station scientists.

APEX is a simulation model that was built on top of the Environmental Policy Integrated Climate model, said Dr. Jimmy Williams, an Experiment Station research scientist.

"It can simulate crop conditions on a daily basis," Williams said. "It uses climate data such as rainfall, temperature, humidity and wind. It can also estimate how much water a plant uses, how much runoff occurs after a rainfall event, etc. The bottom line is it helps us make better management decisions. It allows us to do some things that 30 years ago we couldn't even think about."

Data is collected from surveys submitted by producers, then is sent to Temple to be put through the models.

"The survey is very useful and will grow in value," Dugas said, adding the data collected could lead to contributions in other research projects at the center.

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