Creeks, Streams Benefit from Careful Farming Practices
|Above: Georgia scientists taught farmers and youths how to sample creeks and streams, then documented improved water quality downstream. They published "best management practices," plus sampling procedures, in a workbook sent to every county Extension Service office in the state. Photo by Jean Steiner.|
A group of researchers, farmers, extension educators and high school students, interested in how farming operations affect water quality in their southern Georgia community, joined a SARE-funded project to assess nutrient levels in streams throughout their watershed. Jean Steiner, a researcher from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, led a wide-ranging water quality sampling project that included 15 farmers to determine practices that minimize the flow of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen into streams and creeks. The group received training in how to take accurate water quality samples and installed monitoring devices at 20 locations. Where the job seemed too onerous for working farmers, groups of high schoolers assisted as part of FFA and 4-H projects. An FFA chapter and a science club chipped in with "adopt-a-stream" projects. Some results, such as finding clear water when farmers retained vegetative buffers at field edges to catch nutrients, were expected. Others were a bit more unusual. A farmer found that fecal coliform bacteria from cattle manure settled out in his pond before reaching a stream; a dairy farmer who spread slurry from his manure lagoon onto a silage field learned that an adjacent hayfield served as an effective riparian buffer. Another SARE water quality project, run by the ARS National Sedimentation Laboratory in Mississippi, showed that vegetative barriers reduce sediment leaving fields by 75 percent. In September 2000, the USDA NRCS placed a national practice standard for the use of grass hedges such as switchgrassinto the congressional record. Meanwhile, the Georgia project team shared its information as "best management practices" to agricultural educators, partly in a workbook about managing nutrients in farm watersheds. In all, the project helped confirm that creeks and streams benefited from careful farming practices. Water flowing through the watershed, dotted with farms, actually improved.
[For more information, go to http://www.sare.org/projects/ and search for LS97-088 or LS96-073]