Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: Training and Evaluation Projects

Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: Training and Evaluation Projects

Project description:

The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) is a watershed approach to conservation planning and it is a set of technical tools semi-automated within ArcGIS software. Users can generate detailed maps showing where conservation practices are suitable and effective.

The ACPF was developed by researchers with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Ames, IA. The interest of the Water Resources Center is to examine the value of the ACPF in Minnesota, learn how to use the ACPF output maps as part of watershed approach to planning and implementation, and provide training to local conservation staff across the Midwest.

  • What is the ACPF? (pdf, 1.5MB) -- a brief description and samples of the output maps

  • North Central Region Water Network’s ACPF webpage. -- download the ACPF and find links to more information

The following are projects led by the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center.

Evaluating the ACPF

Funder: McKnight Foundation

Dates: May 2015 - April 2016

Project summary: Evaluate the use of the ACPF in Minnesota by training local GIS technicians, supporting them as they use the ACPF in their watersheds, and then interviewing them to learn about their experience. The following reports describe what participants said about applications of, barriers to, and recommendations for the ACPF.


Bulletin for local government and non-governmental staff: The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: Experience from Minnesota ACPF Users (pdf, 194 kb)

Final project report: Evaluation of the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (pdf, 163 kb)

ACPF Technical Training

Funder: USDA Agricultural Research Service, with funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Dates:  March 2016 - July 2017

Collaborators: University of Wisconsin Extension, Purdue University, USDA ARS


  • Develop training materials and videos for expanded use of the ACPF toolbox

  • Organize hands-on training workshops

  • Develop guidance for use of ACPF results in watershed projects in several midwestern states

Training for a Watershed Approach Using the ACPF

Funder: US Environmental Protection Agency

Dates: Summer 2016 - Summer 2020

Collaborators: University of Wisconsin Extension, Purdue University

Project summary: Implementing the ACPF requires both technical and social skills. Based on information gathered from watersheds that have successfully implemented the ACPF, training will be developed and delivered to expand use of the ACPF as part of a watershed approach.  


  1. In watersheds where the ACPF has been implemented, interview local conservationists, ag advisors, producers, and landowners. Learn how they understand, use, and respond to the ACPF maps; what watershed-based approach was used; and whether it increased practice implementation. Based on the interviews, develop a set of “best practices” for implementing the ACPF as part of a watershed approach to conservation.

  2. Develop training and support materials based on the best practices identified in Activity A.

  3. Deliver training materials online.

  4. Deliver in-person training workshops, and support local users of the ACPF.

For more information

Ann Lewandowski


Rural Stream Handbook

Rural Stream Handbook

Project description:

An online publication suitable for printing is being developed titled “Fields to Streams: Managing Water in Rural Landscapes.” It will be a resource to rural landowners, managers, and conservation professionals to assist them in adopting land and water management practices that will moderate excessive stream-flows that are causing high levels of stream-bank, bluff, and ravine erosion. Part 1 of the publication describes the processes that formed Minnesota’s landscapes and continue to form them. Part 2 describes land and water management practices that can be combined to reduce stream degradation and improve water quality.

Project Staff:
  • Ann Lewandowski, UM Water Resources Center
  • Les Everett, UM Water Resources Center
  • Chris Lenhart, UM Dept. of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
  • Karen Terry, UM Extension
  • Rick Moore, MSU-Mankato, Water Resources Center
  • Chuck Brandel, I&S Group, Engineer
  • Brenda DeZiel, MPCA

McKnight Foundation

Project Duration:

April 2014 through October 2015


Anticipated in fall 2015

Conservation Drainage Focus Group

Conservation Drainage Focus Group

Project Staff:

Ann Lewandowski, WRC, University of Minnesota

Mark Dittrich, MN Department of Agriculture


This is part of the Drainage Systems Management Education and Stakeholder Feedback Workshops Project funded by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, and Board of Water and Soil Resources; and University of Minnesota Extension; through EPA 319 grant #C9-97593508-0

Project Duration:

July 2009 through December 2010. Focus groups were conducted in January-February 2010.


The purpose of this study was to gain insight into how drainage professionals around the state think about “conservation drainage” practices. It is a study of the people most directly involved in implementing drainage, with the results intended for use by a broader group of all stakeholders interested in drainage and its impacts. As the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota, and other organizations plan outreach, research, and water-related projects, this study provides information about the knowledge and perspectives of the people who actually design, install, and regulate agricultural drainage.


Nine focus group sessions were conducted with three stakeholder groups (engineers and agency staff, contractors and farmers, drainage authorities) in three locations (Crookston, Montevideo, Mankato). Each focus group was preceded by a presentation about the current state of research and policy related to drainage. During the focus group discussion, participants were asked about the barriers to implementing various drainage practices, and the relationships between drainage practices and water quality and flows.

Reports and Publications:

Conservation Drainage Workshops and Field Tours

Conservation Drainage Workshops and Field Tours

Project description:

Sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and other partners
Weather patterns are changing, demand for agricultural productivity keeps rising, and people want flood protection and healthy water for future generations. In response, new approaches to agricultural drainage are being developed by counties, watershed districts, researchers, and landowners. These “conservation drainage” approaches can make farmland more productive, reduce flood risk, and reduce impacts on the environment such as excess nutrients.

Attend these workshops and field tours to learn about conservation strategies and to hear how other communities have built partnerships to meet multiple water management goals.

Who should attend? Anyone who is thinking about installing tile drainage, contractors, drainage authorities, local government employees, and consultants who implement drainage practices and policies.

August 28 - August 29, 2012 Hankinson, ND

Agenda > >

Gary Sands (UMN) - "Tile Drainage: Hydrology and the RRB"

Chuck Fritz (IWI) - "Briefing Paper #2: Water Management Options for Subsurface Drainage"

Sonia Jacobsen (NRCS) - "Conservation Drainage Planning"

Al Kean (BWSR) - "Conservation Drainage Management Program Grants"

July 31st to August 1st, 2012 Granite Falls, MN

Agenda >>

Doug Albin - “What it takes to plan a drainage project

Lucas Youngsma, Skip Wright (DNR) – “Outlets, streambank processes and cumulative impacts

Gary Sands (University of Minnesota) – “Tiling depth and spacing: economics and environmental aspects

Dan Jaynes (USDA) – “Saturated buffers

Dave Craigmile – “Geography, Coteau Rivers & Agriculture

Marilyn Bernhardson (Redwood County Soil and Water Conservation District) – “Building Partnerships for Multiple Water Goals

Patrick Moore (Clean-Up the River Environment) – “Building Partnerships for Multiple Water Goals

Kyle Skov (Board of Water and Soil Resources) – “Conservation Drainage Funding and Training Opportunities”

Michelle Legatt (Natural Resources Conservation Service) - “Conservation Drainage Funding and Training Opportunities”

Roger Risser (Watonwan County) - “Drainage Records Modernization”

Bob Moline (Murray County Commissioner and Area II Chair) – “Area II Minnesota River Basin Projects

Henry Van Offlen (Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy) – “Implementing conservation practices to provide multipurpose benefits at the watershed scale: The need for strategic coordination and approaches to getting it done”

Chris Lenhart (University of Minnesota) – “Bank Stabilization Approaches

Chuck Brandel (I&S Group), Craig Austinson (Blue Earth County), Leo Getsfried (MN Department of Natural Resources) – “Ditch Modifications

Todd Kolander (MN Department of Natural Resources) – “Assessing Downstream Effects”

Andry Ranaivoson (University of Minnesota) – “Woodchip Bioreactor Results From Minnesota

Paul Wymar (Chippewa River Watershed Project) – “Watershed Response to Water Storage

Craig Austinson (Blue Earth County), Chuck Brandel (I&S Group) – “Multiple Landowner Drainage Projects: What Really Happened?”

Antibiotic Losses in Runoff and Drainage from Manure-applied Fields

Antibiotic Losses in Runoff and Drainage from Manure-applied Fields

Project Staff:

Principal Investigator: Satish Gupta, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate

Additional Staff: Ashok Singh, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; Kuldip Kumar, Anita Thompson, and David Thoma, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, University of Minnesota


USGS-WRRI 104G National Grants Competition

Project Duration:

September 2001 - September 2003


Report (PDF)

The objective of this research is to quantify the effects of liquid swine manure application on antibiotic and nutrient (N and P) losses via surface runoff and subsurface drainage under a conventional (moldboard plowing) and a conservation (chisel plowing) tillage system. The field experiment is set up at the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center, Lamberton, Minnesota.

Assessing the Impact of Arsenic on Upper-Midwestern Dairy Operations

Assessing the Impact of Arsenic on Upper-Midwestern Dairy Operations

Project Staff:

Vince Crary, Minnesota Extension, Otter Tail County; Barb Liukkonen, U of M Water Resources Center; Jim Linn, Department of Animal Science, U of M; Mike Murphy, College of Veterinary Medicine, U of M; and Mindy Erickson, Department of Civil Engineering, U of M


calfIf dairy cows drink water containing high levels of arsenic, will milk laced with arsenic end up in cheese, butter, milk and yogurt? A group of Otter Tail County dairy farmers posed this question to their local Extension educator, Vince Crary, back in 2003. When a 1999 Minnesota Department of Health study detected high levels of naturally-occuring arsenic in some domestic wells in western Minnesota, water treatment programs and alternate sources were recommended to families to minimize human exposure to arsenic.But that study didn't answer the dairy question, so Crary called his colleagues at the University of Minnesota (U of M).

The U of M mobilized a multi-disciplinary team of researchers who worked together to secure external funding and design a research protocol. Funding came from the Great Lakes Regional Water Program, as well as from the U of M College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences' Rapid Response Funds.

Water from over 100 wells in Otter Tail and surrounding counties was sampled. Producers with elevated arsenic levels were invited to participate in the study. Water, feed, and forage were sampled to identify potential sources of arsenic.

cows in a barnIn humans, hair, fingernails, urine, and blood are useful indicators of arsenic exposure. No indicators had previously been identified to assess whether cattle exposed to arsenic in drinking water were absorbing it into their systems or experiencing any ill effects from exposure. Hair, hooves, blood, and urine from 5-7 cows on each of the study farms were analyzed for arsenic. Most hair, hoof, and blood samples did not contain arsenic, but arsenic levels in urine correlated well with the level of arsenic in the drinking water supply - making it a good bio-indicator of arsenic exposure.

The research team determined that arsenic does not transfer into milk or cheese, even from cattle exposed to arsenic at 10 times the human drinking water standard.

Well owners were given all the results from their water tests, which included measurements of 27 different constituents (including arsenic, of course). Most owners had never had their well water tested for arsenic and many were very surprised at the results. 51% of the 116 wells tested (in areas where arsenic was expected) had arsenic levels greater than the 10 ppb recommended by the USEPA for safe drinking water.

Several of the farmers installed water treatment units to reduce their exposure to arsenic in drinking water and protect their family’s health.

During 2005 and 2006, the team held five public meetings to inform study participants, other producers, veterinarians and June 12, 2007 was – and is – paramount, yet participants were informed about their own herds throughout the study. Results will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal in 2007.

Bioavailable P Credits in Payment for Pounds Program

Bioavailable P Credits in Payment for Pounds Program

Project Staff:

Principal Investigators: Dave Mulla, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate; and Patrick L. Brezonik, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering


Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Project Duration:

July 1998 - June 1999


The objectives of this project were to i) determine the relationship between soil physical and chemical characteristics and desorbable phosphorus for soils of the Minnesota River basin, ii) determine the relationship between phosphorus sorption saturation, soil physical and chemical characteristics, and dissolved phosphorus in runoff for soils of the Minnesota River basin, and iii) determine the relationship between bioavailability of phosphorus, soil physical and chemical characteristics, and phosphorus sorption capacity for soils of the Minnesota River basin.

Characterizing the Fate of Nitrogen Feriltilizer to Improve Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Irrigated Potato Production

Characterizing the Fate of Nitrogen Feriltilizer to Improve Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Irrigated Potato Production

Project Staff:

Carl Rosen, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate; Michael Russelle, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate; and Satish Gupta, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate


USGS-WRRI 104B/ CAIWQ Competitive Grants Program

Project Duration:

March 1999 - February 2000


Potato crops in central Minnesota are highly dependent upon nitrogen fertilizers. These fertilizers are highly soluble, and nitrate leaching into the groundwater is high. Carl Rosen, Michael Russelle, and Satish Gupta were awarded a grant to evaluate the efficiency of urea-based POC N fertilizers in reducing nitrate, to increase tuber yield and quality in a glacial outwash soil under irrigated potato production in central Minnesota, and to determine the fate and recovery of N from POC urea in comparison to conventional urea fertilizers using the 15N-enrichment method.