In the past, surface and subsurface drains were constructed on cropland to carry excess water from the soil. Cropland drainage is very extensive in the Midwestern United States, and drainage flows can carry excessive amounts of plant nutrients and other chemicals, especially nitrate-nitrogen. Recent science has shown that managing drainage flow can significantly reduce nutrient and pesticide losses from cropland.
Modifications to existing drainage systems, and better designs for new or replacement systems, allow farmers better control over drainage water releases, reducing nutrient losses. Drainage water management improves water quality, and can boost crop production by conserving water in the soil during dry periods.
Examples of Key Partners
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES); U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Land Grant Universities in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin; State Agencies, The Nature Conservancy, The Fertilizer Institute, National Association of Conservation Districts, National Corn Grower’s Association, Sand County Foundation, National Land Improvement Contractors Association, AgriDrain, Inc.; several agricultural industries, and private landowners.
Results and AccomplishmentsThe Agricultural Drainage Management Systems (ADMS) Task Force and the Agricultural Drainage Management (ADM) Coalition were formed after the 2002 Farm Bill failed to recognize drainage management as a viable option for reducing nutrient losses from cropland and conserving soil moisture. Their efforts are raising awareness about the benefi ts of drainage water management on water quality and wildlife habitat in the Mississippi River Basin. Selected accomplishments include:
• Conservation Practice Standard 554 has been adopted in all but two of the participating states, making the practice eligible for cost-share benefits.
• About 4,000 acres of Midwest cropland are using drainage water management practices, in comparison to less than 500 acres in 2004; these practices are expected to increase dramatically in the Midwest over the next few years.
• NRCS, ARS, CSREES, USEPA, and the Sand County Foundation have funded research and demonstration projects in response to greater interest in this strategy for improving water quality in the Mississippi River Basin.
• All currently funded and planned projects are collaborative efforts among federal agencies, academia, non-government
organizations, and industry representatives.
• Land Grant Universities, State Agricultural Experiment Stations, and ARS in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Minnesota installed field demonstration projects and are evaluating their performance.