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News Release

USDA Study: Conservation Practices Reduce Sediment and Nutrient Losses in the Ohio-Tennessee River Basin

Brad Fisher, 202-720-4024

WASHINGTON, February 9, 2012 – A U.S. Department of Agriculture study released today shows that conservation practices applied to cultivated cropland in the Ohio-Tennessee River Basin are reducing losses of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus from farm fields and decreasing the movement of these materials into the Mississippi River and other waterways.

“The Ohio-Tennessee River Basin Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) study clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of voluntary, incentives-based conservation,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Farmers are showing that putting practices where they are needed most benefits natural resources, the agriculture industry, the public and the economy. This study also gives us new input as we continue working with farmers throughout the basin to make even greater progress in the years ahead.”

This latest CEAP study examines nearly 204,000 square miles in the river basin, including parts of Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Prepared by NRCS, the Ohio-Tennessee River Basin report estimates conservation practices have reduced edge-of-field losses of:
• Waterborne sediment by 52 percent;
• Nitrogen in surface runoff by 35 percent;
• Nitrogen in subsurface flows by 11 percent; and
• Phosphorus (sediment attached and soluble) by 33 percent.

Additional model simulations show that from 2003 to 2006 conservation practices in the basin reduced loads of waterborne sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Mississippi River by 16, 15 and 21 percent, respectively.

NRCS and its partners determined these losses and loadings by computer model simulations based on scientific data that compare farming and conservation practices from 2003 to 2006 to conditions that would be expected if no conservation practices were in place. USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service provided data for the simulations.

This study also shows that nearly 6 million acres—nearly 24 percent of cultivated cropland in the basin—now have a high level of need for conservation treatments to reduce losses of sediment and nutrients. Modeling simulations show that the most cost-effective way to address these losses is through planning and implementation of appropriate suites of erosion-control and nutrient management practices.

Excessive loss of phosphorus from farm fields is the most critical agricultural conservation concern in the basin. This finding contrasts with findings from the previous studies in other river basins in this series that found that nitrogen loss through leaching was the most critical agricultural conservation concern.

CEAP cropland studies come from a partnership of NRCS, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension of Texas A&M University. The Upper Mississippi River Basin, Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes Region CEAP studies are available on the CEAP Web page Additional regional cropland studies on the effects of conservation practices will be forthcoming over the next several months.

Read additional information about the Ohio-Tennessee River Basin Conservation Effects Assessment Project study, including the full report

USDA is delivering to the American people by working with state and local governments and private landowners conserving and protecting our Nation’s natural resources. USDA is helping preserve our land, and clean our air and water. President Obama’s “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” includes a 21st century approach to conservation that is designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people. During the past two years, USDA’s conservation agencies—the U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Farm Service Agency—have delivered technical assistance and implemented restoration practices on public and private lands.


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