WASHINGTON, August 2, 2012 -Topographical technology can improve conventional implementation of vegetative buffer systems in the row crop landscape, which is “not working as well as it should,” a U.S. Forest Service research scientist told a National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR) Hill Research Seminar Monday.

Mike Dosskey, based at the USDA National Agroforestry Center located on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, described research being conducted at the Forest Service using publically available data through the National Elevation Dataset. The data can be used to identify prime areas in the landscape where buffer grasses can best trap sediment and chemical runoff. These target areas are often random, “not nice linear lines” along agricultural fields or stream edges where conventional buffers are placed.

Geographic information system (GIS)-based targeting is more precise, Dosskey said, adding that it provides the ability to evaluate land down to each square yard. If this system became common practice for identifying target buffer areas, farmers and conservations would get “more value for each dollar spent on conservation,” he said.

National C-Far says new tools are enabling more precise discernment of pollutant sources, runoff pathways, and buffering capabilities across landscapes. The group notes that these new tools capitalize on GIS and widespread availability of spatial data on land uses, stream networks, soil properties, and topography for identifying where the right combination of conditions exist to achieve disproportionately greater impact from vegetative buffers.

“By guiding conservationists toward higher-impact locations and away from less-promising ones, the use of these new tools may substantially improve the cost-effectiveness of vegetative buffers and water quality improvement programs,” National C-FAR asserts. A notable challenge relates to the pattern of these target areas and the need for farmers to farm around the placed buffers. However, the next step in Dosskey’s research includes quantifying the benefits of targeted buffer areas in terms of how much less sediment winds up in streams by using the targeted approach as well as testing a variation of landscapes.


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