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Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority

Crops and Creeks Huron

Evaluation of Agricultural Best Management Practices – Crops and Creeks Huron

Updated January 2014

The Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA), the Huron County Federation of Agriculture (HCFA), the University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs examined the environmental effectiveness and economic costs and benefits of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) in four study watersheds.

               

Since 2010, information about the land use, land management and water quality was collected for the evaluation (please see the reports listed below).

The project partners would like to thank residents that live near Bayfield for helping us with this evaluation.

BMPs evaluated:

  • conservation tillage;
  • cover crops;
  • nutrient management;
  • water and sediment control basins (WASCoBs, or berms); and
  • a grass filter strip.

There was also some study on the economic benefits of these BMPs.  The ABCA worked closely with the University of Guelph’s Watersheds Evaluation Group (WEG), led by Dr. Wanhong Yang.  Dr. Yang developed a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to determine the cumulative effectiveness of the four studied BMPs.

Crops and Creeks Huron has made several important conclusions:

1)     Intermittent channels across the land contribute to poor water quality during storm events.

2)     Watersheds need to be managed for storm events.  This has implications for:

  • The types of BMPs employed and where they would best be implemented.
  • Monitoring at the watershed outlet and at the site scale to assess BMPs
  • More study – how many areas contribute to downstream and how many BMPs are necessary to see a difference to water quality at the watershed scale?

3)     BMPs can be effective.

  • Monitoring showed reductions in suspended solids (TSS), and total phosphorus (TP), and soluble reactive phosphorus but not nitrate at the site scale for a grassed filter strip at a field edge, and a reduction in TSS for a WASCoB.
  • The SWAT model showed reductions in TSS, TP, and total nitrogen at the watershed scale for all four modelled BMPs.
  • More study is required to assess surface inlets to WASCoBs.

4)     Landowner involvement is critical.

  • A community led watershed management plan increases the uptake of BMPs.
  • Land management data, necessary for the model, was gathered through one-on-one surveys with landowners.
  • Evaluating a BMP needs to take place on agricultural land within the studied watershed.
  • It was important to update landowners with the findings of the project
  • More study if management BMPs (such as conservation tillage and cover crops) are more effective environmentally and economically, why are structural BMPs (such as berms) preferred by landowners?

                    

PHOTO ABOVE: Monitoring the outflow at the hickenbottom of a WASCoB in the Bayfield North watersheds

See these reports for more information about the Crops and Creeks Huron project:

During the course of this three year project, more than thirty landowners participated in the study across three watersheds.  Additionally, more than thirty BMPs were implemented within the study area. 

Even though this portion of the project has been completed, monitoring efforts are continuing through the Rural Stormwater Management Model Project and through OMAF’s New Directions program.  The researchers are continuing to address the questions identified as requiring more study (above).

To find out more about Dr. Yang, and his research projects, please visit:

http://www.uoguelph.ca/geography/people/faculty/yang.shtml

This project, Crops and Creeks Huron, was one of two watershed-based best management practice evaluation (WBBE) projects that the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) and the Ontario Ministry of Rural Affairs (OMRA) helped fund through the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Ecosystem.  The second project is in the Kettle Creek Watershed, south of London.  (LINK)

The watersheds are also priority areas in the Healthy Lake Huron program (http://www.healthylakehuron.ca/) and supported by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Environment Canada. 

Opportunities are still available…

If you own an agricultural property, and are interested in implementing a BMP on your property, or would like more information on funding programs to help implement BMPs, please call Kate Monk at the ABCA by telephone – 519-235-2610, or toll-free 1-888-286-2610 or by e-mail at kmonk@abca.on.ca.   

If you have further questions regarding the findings of the Crops and Creeks Huron project, please call Mari Veliz at the ABCA by telephone – 519-235-2610, or by e-mail at mveliz@abca.on.ca.

There are sources of funding that can aid landowners as they implement projects.  Agricultural landowners who complete the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan have some funding available to them through the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association. 

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/environment/efp/efp.htm

http://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/

In addition to these funding sources, residents of Huron County are also eligible for funding from the Huron Clean Water Project.  These funding sources can sometimes be combined to cover most, if not all, of the project cost.

http://www.huroncounty.ca/plandev/water.php

Other Links

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food (OMAF) - http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/index.html

Huron County Federation of Agriculture (HCFA) - http://www.hcfa.on.ca/

Healthy Lake Huron - http://www.healthylakehuron.ca/

Lake Huron Community Action Framework - http://www.lakehuroncommunityaction.ca

Articles:

The following articles, from the Huron County Federation of Agriculture's The Survey publication between 2012 and 2013, provide some of the findings so far:

More than thirty Huron County producers help to verify the effectiveness of agricultural best management practices (BMPs)

The Huron County Federation of Agriculture (HCFA) has been working with Ausable Bayfield Conservation since January 2011 to measure the economic and environmental effectiveness of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) to protect and improve water quality.  

This watershed-based best management practices evaluation project has been made possible with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Rural Affairs (through the Canada-­Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Ecosystem). 

More than thirty landowners in three local watersheds have taken part in the project called Crops and Creeks, Huron. These landowners have completed surveys and provided land management information for more than 70 per cent of the study area while taking the opportunity to identify and implement more than 30 BMPs. 

Four BMPs were studied extensively, including berms, conservation tillage, cover crops and nutrient management. The University of Guelph’s Watersheds Evaluation Group (WEG) implemented a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model to determine the cumulative effectiveness of the four studied BMPs in the Gully Creek Watershed, north of Bayfield.

The Vermue family farms in the Gully Creek watershed. They have found ways to incorporate all of the studied BMPs. Koos Vermue carefully manages nutrients on his fields, has employed several broad-based berms in various fields to help control erosion, and uses conservation tillage on a regular basis. This year he is trying a cover crop mix of tillage radish and oats on one of his fields in the Gully Creek watershed. “If you treat the ground well, you can expect something good back in return,” said Vermue.  “Many of these practices are good long-term investments.”  The study did not look at the long-term economic implications of the practices, but, the study did find short-term economic and environmental benefits of some of the practices. Some BMPs have a relatively high initial cost to the producer, however, in a short-term study it was difficult to determine if these initial costs provide economic benefits over a longer term.

At the watershed scale, more than 70 per cent of the agricultural land is farmed with conservation tillage on a regular basis. More than 90 per cent of fields are carefully managed for nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Landowners continue to implement berms, both broad and narrow based, in many fields. In contrast, cover crops have not been a popular BMP choice in the Gully Creek watershed, but, more landowners, such as Vermue, are trying them and have considered adding them to their rotations.

The SWAT model found that the four studied BMPs typically reduced nutrient and sediment loading to Gully Creek. Conservation tillage was more effective at reducing sediment and total phosphorus loading than both a red clover cover crop and nutrient management, but it increased dissolved nitrogen loading in surface water. Additionally, a red clover cover crop, if growing in all fields following the harvest of winter wheat, effectively reduced loadings of sediment, total phosphorus, and total nitrogen.

Overall, the model helps to show erosion prone areas in fields that could be addressed through BMPs.  Loss of sediment and nutrients tend to occur when the low runs in fields connect to the creek downstream during high rain or snowmelt events.  From model observations it was found that it may be beneficial to look towards implementing whole systems of BMPs that ACT (Avoid, Control, Treat or Trap) to further address erosion and water quality within a watershed. It appears that combining different types of BMPs in a field is better than just using one BMP by itself. 

For more information or to find out how you can be involved with ongoing projects, contact Mari Veliz, Healthy Watersheds Coordinator, at Ausable Bayfield Conservation at 519-235-2610, or toll-free at 1-888­-286­-2610. You can also visit the abca.on.ca website and type in ‘Crops and Creeks Huron’ in the search tool at the top of the home page.

Full reports will be available in the coming weeks on the ‘Crops and Creeks Huron’ web page at: http://www.abca.on.ca/page.php?page=crops-and-creeks-huron.

Landowners, agencies work together through Crops and Creeks Huron to measure benefits of best management practices

Huron County Federation of Agriculture (HCFA) has been working with Ausable Bayfield Conservation and other partners, since January 2011, to measure the economic and environmental effectiveness of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) to preserve soil health and water quality.  

This watershed-based best management practices evaluation project has been made possible with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) through the Canada-­Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Ecosystem. 

More than thirty landowners in three local watersheds have taken part in the project, called Crops and Creeks Huron. These landowners have completed surveys and provided land management information for more than 70 per cent of the study area and are taking the opportunity to identify and implement more than 30 BMPs. 

The Feddes family has been incorporating best management practices for many years, including conservation tillage, at their farm near Holmesville.  Dwayne and Al Feddes recognized the need to mitigate the effects of water erosion on their cropped land and installed five berms with some funding from the Crops and Creeks Huron study. “We are trying to make changes that will be long-term investment in the farm,” Dwayne said.

The chairman of the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority Board of Directors, Dave Frayne, said the Crops and Creeks Huron Study is only possible because of landowners trying to make a difference, like the Feddes family. “We simply could not do this project without the help of our participating farmers,” said Frayne, who owns a cash-crop farm east of Exeter.

Water quality and soil monitoring has been on-going to specifically evaluate berms, conservation tillage, cover crops, and fertilizer nutrient reductions.  The University of Guelph’s Watersheds Evaluation Group (WEG) has also set up and run a model (SWAT – Soil and Water Assessment Tool) to determine the cumulative effectiveness of the four studied BMPs in the Gully Creek Watershed.

The project research is still in its early stages but monitoring the BMPs has already offered some preliminary results. One monitoring opportunity demonstrated a reduction of sediment and nutrients of a strategically located five by five metre grassed area at the edge of a field.  Also, berms decreased the amount of sediment between an inflow channel and the settling area behind the berm, slowing down the water that moves over the land and preventing sediment from entering surface water. Other studies showed that cover crops and conservation tillage also reduce erosion.

The Crops and Creeks Huron Project has provided several opportunities to network with both the local community and the larger North American community.  Two local events were held in 2012: a rainfall simulation event to evaluate erosion reduction provided by cover crops, held on April 4; and a Shop Talk Event focusing on the multiple benefits of cover crops, held on August 30.  The project team also presented at the Central Canadian Symposium on Water Quality Research, the International Association for Great Lakes Research, and the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s Annual International Conference, held in Fort Worth, Texas.