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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Farmers tour blue water farms edge of field monitoring research

By Kentucky Soybean Board

During their 2019 summer board meeting, the farmer-lead­ers of the Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board and Kentucky Soybean Association Board visited a Daviess County farm to see firsthand the edge-of-field monitoring project being conducted by the University of Kentucky’s Dr. Brad Lee and funded in part by the soybean checkoff.

“This project is vitally important to farmers,” said Board Chair­man Ryan Bivens of Hodgenville, “because it deals with runoff after significant rainfall events. Farmers are the original environ­mentalists, and we’re also pretty thrifty. This study will help us to pinpoint on a large, real-life field scale which management practices help us to retain the nutrients we’ve placed on the field and which practices leave room for improvement.”

Kentucky is one of 12 states participating in the national proj­ect. Each state is located in a watershed of a major waterway, such as the Mississippi River, Great Lakes, or Chesapeake Bay. Kentucky’s project centers on farmland located in the Lower Green River watershed. The Green River flows into the Ohio River and then into the Mississippi River. The watershed is also home to one of the largest agricultural production areas in the state.

In the study, called Blue Water Farms, UK researchers conduct large, field-scale evaluations of best management practices in nutrient retention for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natu­ral Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “We are excited to team with agricultural producers, the Ken­tucky Soybean Promotion Board, Kentucky Geological Survey and the United States Department of Agriculture in a partnership that provides us with an opportunity to evaluate these Best Man­agement Practices in a long-term, real-world setting,” Lee said.

UK became involved in the project when Lee and Reed Cripps, NRCS assistant state conservationist for easements and part­nerships, reconnected in Kentucky. They knew each other from previous jobs in Indiana, and Cripps was interested in starting an edge-of-field monitoring program in Kentucky, similar to the one he started while working for the NRCS in Arkansas. UK research­ers are gathering their first two years of baseline data from the monitoring sites on Joe Thompson’s farm and will then study whether broadcast or direct injection of poultry litter retains the most nutrients in fields.

Sample collection flume in action during a significant rainfall event last year. (UK photo/ Stephen Patton)

“I’m interested to see which practice retains the most nutri­ents,” Thompson said. “I’m particularly interested in the direct injection, because I have not used that application method on my farm.”

The project is funded by NRCS, but it would not be possible without support from the Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board. The board has offered financial support annually since the study’s inception, believing it will produce relevant and useful data. The board also has a good working relationship with UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and its research­ers; it regularly supports many research projects in the college.

Kentucky soybean farmer-leaders participated in a question and answer session following the presentation.

“As farmers, we want good, unbiased information to help us produce a crop in the safest, most efficient way possible,” said Larry Thomas, secretary/treasurer of the Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board. “We feel like if there is an issue, we need to know about it, so we can work toward a solution. But at the same time, if there’s not an issue, we don’t want to accept blame for something that we are not causing.”

Monitoring sites should continue to pop up in the watershed as the project progresses.

Results from this study could lead to improvements in best management practices, which could eventually benefit all producers and lead to more efficient and sustainable agricultural production. Research partnerships like this make agricultural innovations happen.