Skip Navigation

Edge of Field Monitoring

An edge of field monitoring station powered by solar panels

An edge of field monitoring station powered by solar panels. Full screen view

Edge of field water quality monitoring measures the amount of water and relative quality of the water leaving agricultural fields during runoff events precipitated by rainfall or snow melt. Water sampling devices are installed to sample and determine runoff volume of surface and subsurface water running off the field. Researchers analyze the water samples and runoff data to determine the nutrient and sediment content of the runoff. Researchers then work with farmers to compare water quality differences between various management practices to determine those practices that will be the most effective in reducing overall runoff volumes and nutrient concentrations.

Why does water runoff agricultural fields? When more precipitation falls on a field than the soil can hold, the excess water leaves either by running off the surface into streams or moving deeper into the soil profile. Farmers sometimes artificially drain fields with soils that do not easily move water within the soil profile, by placing drainage tile below the surface of the soil.  Water enters the drain tile through small openings in the tile and is transported by gravity to a drainage outlet, usually a ditch or a stream. Drainage tile empties into the same drainage ditch or stream as surface water. 

Water running off the surface of a field or drainage tile carries soil particles that are not held in place by plants. Soil particles have the capability to bind and carry excess nutrients from the field that have not been taken up by plants. Both soil particles and dissolved nutrients in the runoff water have the potential to impact water quality beyond the field edge.

The Edge of Field Monitoring Project

To help farmers improve and/or verify the effectiveness of agricultural conservation practices and systems on their farm field, edge of field monitoring equipment can be installed to evaluate the quality of water draining from farms. Funding is available for both monitoring system installation and also collecting and evaluating the data.

Farmers must work with a monitoring professional (private or public) as well as NRCS on funded projects.

All data collected will be protected under the Farm Bill privacy rules, and details will be shared only as authorized by the producer.

The results of data collected will be maintained confidentially for farmers’ use and for use by the conservation partners responsible for monitoring.

How the Effort Benefits Producers

Edge of field monitoring stations monitor runoff during all seasons

Edge of field monitoring stations monitor runoff during all seasons. Full screen view

Information from monitoring stations helps producers make informed decisions regarding the use of inputs and the effectiveness of conservation practices.

How the Effort Benefits NRCS

Monitoring stations enable NRCS to measure conservation benefits on water quality right at the edge of farm fields rather than try to estimate conservation effects from in-stream measurements that are subject to influences outside of the farmer's control. Edge-of-field monitoring, combined with in-stream monitoring, can provide a more thorough picture of improvements within a watershed. This helps NRCS refine and improve conservation efforts. 

Edge of Field Monitoring Conservation Practices

Edge-of-field monitoring consists of two conservation activities:

  • Edge of Field Water Quality Monitoring, Data Collection and Evaluation
  • Edge of Field Water Quality Monitoring, System Installation

These activities, along with specific conservation practices, aim to:

  • Evaluate conservation system performance;
  • Validate and calibrate models; and
  • Assist producers in making the best conservation investments possible.

A Typical Monitoring Station

A typical monitoring station consists of the following components. Additional components may be necessary depending on the station location and configuration. Monitoring is set up on paired watersheds in the same or similar fields in order to compare conservation treatments.

  • Pre-calibrated flow control structure
  • Equipment shelter
  • Datalogger
  • Depth (stage) sensor and cork gauge
  • Rain gauge
  • Refrigerated autosampler
  • Power source - A/C or Solar
  • Communications device (cell phone, radio)
  • Time-lapse camera
  • Real-time water quality meters

How the Effort Works

Producers in target watersheds interested in edge-of-field monitoring can apply for financial assistance through EQIP. As part of applying for financial assistance, producers work with their local NRCS conservationist to develop a conservation plan and ensure they’re eligible for participation. The plan identifies resources concerns like water quality and provides a basis for determining the best conservation activities for farmers. Learn more on getting started with NRCS with the Five Steps to Assistance guide.

If selected, NRCS will provide financial assistance to the producer to implement the conservation practices. Before implementation, producers typically will work with the monitoring partner to develop a plan outlining the monitoring question, how equipment will be installed, and how data will be collected and analyzed. Once NRCS approves this plan, the producer and monitoring partner can implement the practices.

Who Can Participate?

Lake Champlain - 2016 Edge of Field Monitoring program areas in NY
Download or view PDF

The Edge of Field Monitoring effort in New York is currently focused on areas within the Lake Champlain Watershed.

All PDF documents below are less than 540 KB.

Lake Champlain - Edge of Field Program Areas in New York



Ranking Tool and Payment Schedule

Edge-of-Field Monitoring Ranking Tool
Edge-of-Field Available Practices

More Information

Five Steps to AssistanceTo learn how to get started with NRCS.

Service Center Locator

Find your local USDA Service Center.

USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program
USDA-NRCS Edge of Field Monitoring

GovDelivery envelope imageSign up for Farm Bill email updates