2022 journal article
Assessing the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework toolbox in a Southern Piedmont landscape of the United States
JOURNAL OF SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION, 77(5), 441–449.
The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) is a geospatial decision support tool that was developed and is used in many areas of the Midwest of the United States to help with the prioritization and placement of conservation practices within agricultural watersheds. We evaluated the utility and extensibility of ACPF in two US Geological Survey 12-digit scale hydrologic units in the Southern Piedmont of North Carolina. The Southern Piedmont consists of less row crop agriculture and more pasture systems than the Midwest and has generally lower pollutant loads. Also, agricultural fields are comparatively smaller, irregularly shaped, and more sparsely distributed. For this study, local conservation experts were interviewed about conservation practices and their appropriate locations in the landscape. Interviewees demonstrated an extensive working knowledge of the land and producers on over 90% of the farmland. Many of the conservation practices identified by the local experts were “soil health” practices, such as cover crops or nutrient management, and are assumed in use before running ACPF. Results revealed that many of the conservation practices output by ACPF were not identified by the local experts in the Southern Piedmont watersheds due to their limited use in pasture conservation, conservation priorities, and landscape characteristics. Row crop agriculture was sparsely distributed in each study watershed and comprised less than 2% of the total catchment area. Contour buffer strips and grassed waterways were the conservation practices most identified by ACPF and were sited in 75% of cropped fields. A greater number of crop-related conservation practices (48 versus 15) were identified by ACPF than by local experts; however 80% of the conservation practices identified by the experts were outside the scope of ACPF and were mainly nutrient management or soil health practices. To evaluate ACPF for broader utility in the Southern Piedmont, alternative interpretations for existing outputs were considered: (1) ACPF “proxies” were identified to compare locally accepted practices with ACPF outputs that perform a similar function (e.g., strip cropping rather than contour buffer strips) and, (2) placing locally used conservation practices (e.g., exclusion fencing) based on existing ACPF data layers (hydrologically enforced flow paths). Alternative uses and interpretations surrounding ACPF outputs and data layers may provide opportunities for conservation planning outside the scope and intended use of ACPF in the Southern Piedmont.