Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: Training and Evaluation Projects

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.

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.

The Small Watershed Policy Forum

The Small Watershed Policy Forum on August 31, 2017 was hosted by the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center and the Harvard Environmental Policy Initiative. Twenty-nine participants from 10 states included leaders in watershed management from state NRCS offices, soil and water conservation district organizations, watershed divisions of state EPA agencies, and state agriculture departments. The group was charged with examining the policy and institutional barriers and opportunities for planning for implementation at the small watershed scale. They identified challenges and learned how their counterparts in other states have supported small watershed implementation, despite federal and state policies often designed to support planning at larger scales or implementation at the scale of farms and stream reaches.

Ann Lewandowski. 2018. Deploying Technology for Small Watershed-Based Conservation 

Konopacky, Jamie and Laurie Ristino. 2017. The healthy watershed framework: A blueprint for restoring nutrient-impaired waterbodies through integrated Clean Water Act and Farm Bill conservation planning and implementation at the subwatershed level. Environmental Law. Vol 47:647.

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

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)

For more information

Ann Lewandowski