Using the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) to Optimize the Allocation of Scarce Conservation Funding
The environmental and economic benefits of coordinated approaches to implementing agricultural best management practices (BMP) at watershed-scales long have been recognized. Yet limitations in data and computational capacity have hindered application of spatial land management techniques. A recently developed planning toolset, the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF), seeks to mitigate this challenge by using publicly available high-resolution spatial data analyzed in a specialized Geographic Information System (GIS) that highlights where in a watershed various best management practices would be most effective. Thus, the ACPF has made watershed scale conservation planning operational in ways not previously possible. What the ACPF currently does not do, however, is track the costs of any particular conservation plan or allow for optimizing the allocation of scarce conservation funding.
The Big Creek watershed will be used as a case study to create and demonstrate an economic optimization tool and protocol for use with the USDA ACPF that will allow users to determine the least-cost combination of conservation practices to achieve different nutrient reduction goals. Or, given a budget constraint, find the combination of conservation practices that offer the maximum estimated nutrient reductions. A financial optimization add-on module will be developed to complement the existing ACPF toolset. Plus online programming will be developed to train users on the ACPF-compatible module.
The set of field-level conservation practices that reduce N and P available in the ACPF includes drainage water management, grass waterways, contour buffer strips, riparian buffers, saturated buffers, cover crops, nutrient removal wetlands and bioreactors. Using the Big Creek watershed as a case-study site, the team will create a cost data layer that tracks direct and opportunity cost of BMP application. It then will demonstrate the optimization protocol by identifying the least-cost combination of various BMPs to achieve a given level of nutrient reduction, plus the combination of BMPs that meets the maximum amount of nutrient reductions, given a limited budget.
Note: Project reports published on the INRC website are often revised from researchers' original reports to increase consistency.
The project team created a fully functional ACPF Optimizer Toolbox along with a comprehensive visual user’s guide. Using its suite of ACPF financial analysis tools, ACPF users and conservation planners can now estimate the total long-term direct and opportunity costs and the expected nitrogen reductions of various conservation plan scenarios that feature different combinations of conservation practices available in the ACPF.
Next, by employing the ACPF Optimizer toolset, users can:
a) determine the least-cost combination of conservation practices for achieving different nutrient reduction goals, or
b), given a budget constraint, find the combination of best management practices that offer the maximum estimated nutrient (nitrogen) reductions.
Analysts who use the ACPF and ACPF FiNRT toolboxes to create various conservation watershed-based scenarios can use the optimization results as guidelines for comparing the cost-effectiveness of their scenarios.
Changes have been made to the Agricultural Planning Conservation Framework website to feature the suite of ACPF financial analysis toolboxes including the ACPF FiNRT and the ACPF Optimizer. The website allows users to download the toolboxes along with comprehensive user’s guides, view Youtube tutorials of the toolboxes and review relevant documentation.
During the project, the team has presented four presentations and is preparing journal submissions, including a manuscript for the Journal of Environmental Quality that will feature the ACPF Optimizer.
This project has also been leveraged as part of a newly awarded NRCS grant designed to increase the financial and economic analytical scope of the ACPF FiNRT and Optimizer toolboxes (Award # NR213A750008C004). This new project will expand financial datasets to additional states with nutrient reduction strategies, add in analytical capacity to include BMP placement for phosphorus loss mitigation and monetize water quality benefits.
During this reporting period:
1. The team created a user manual for “Financial Analysis for Use with the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: Data for the State of Iowa”, a detailed description of the methods for applying financial data to ACPF scenarios, with a study case for Big Creek in Iowa. Additionally, financial data relative to direct establishment/ installation and management costs of ACPF best management practices was updated to 2019 dollars for the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois.
2. The team translated state-level soil productivity indices into 2018-2019 land rent as a proxy for the opportunity costs associated with the management practices that take land out of production. Using soil productivity data layers available with the gSSURGO soil database, the team developed a database for Iowa and is working on estimating similar measures for the neighboring states. Also, the team is working with USDA ARS personnel on designing a user-friendly integration within the ACPF toolbox.
3. Working with the fully updated and reconditioned watershed case and using the updated financial data on direct costs and nitrogen efficiency reduction data, the team successfully built an ArcGIS toolbox that explores different optimization scenarios.
Work continues to explore ways to add in complexity to the optimization protocol such as accounting for stacked effects from the use of multiple best management practices. A technical report will be available 2020.
Outreach included: 1 presentation, 1 workshop
During this reporting period, Big Creek Lake Watershed in Polk County, Iowa, was chosen as the case-study watershed due to its high-profile location and history of use.
1) Financial data relative to direct establishment/installation and management costs of ACPF conservation practices was updated and comprehensive BMP cost data was created for the state of Iowa to 2019 dollars. For expanded assessment purposes financial data relevant to Nebraska, Minnesota, and Illinois was also created.
2) Working equations for Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois were created to translate state-level soil productivity indices into 2018-2019 land rent so that proxy opportunity costs associated with ACPF BMPs that take land out of production can be calculated (e.g., wetlands, buffers, grass waterways). The team is developing the various databases required for these calculations.
3) The team has fully updated and reconditioned the case-study watershed using the new ACPF toolbox version 3.0. Approaches to optimize using updated financial data continues to be explored. For the Big Creek watershed, using ACPF outputs, updated BMP direct costs and nitrogen efficiency reduction data, we have run proof of concept optimization using Matlab (e.g., least cost to achieve 40% N reductions).
Outreach included a poster and oral presentation at the 2019 SWCS International Annual Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This project will develop a planning assessment protocol that would allow users of the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) to directly consider the cost efficiency of different watershed-scale conservation plans. The project will use the upper Big Creek watershed to develop and showcase the utility of an optimization process. This watershed was chosen due to its high-profile location and history of use.
Currently, the team continues to review relevant literature and the latest updates related to the ACPF tool (a new version was released in summer 2018). The team had been working on hydro-conditioning our case-study watershed using the new ACPF version. Watersheds maps together with digital elevation model (DEM) layers data have been downloaded towards this goal. Due to the current government shutdown, the ACPF website and related toolbox has been intermittently available or offline, which has slowed progress. Also, a key member of the project team is on maternity leave.
Next, the team will use Iowa BMP Mapping Project data (Iowa-wide digitization of existing best management practices) so that land use scenarios can be scaled by existing conservation efforts.
This project will develop a planning assessment protocol that would allow users of the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) to directly consider the cost efficiency of different watershed-scale conservation plans. The project will use the upper Big Creek watershed to develop and showcase the utility of an optimization process. We chose this watershed due to its high-profile location and history of use.
Currently, the team is reviewing the relevant literature and the latest updates to the ACPF tool, a new version being releasedthe summer of 2019. The team is working on the hydro-conditioning of the watershed using the new ACPF version. Watershed maps together with Digital Elevation Model (DEM) layers data have been downloaded towardsthis goal.
Next, the team will use the Iowa best management practice (BMP) Mapping Project data (Iowa-wide digitization of existing BMPs) so that land-use scenarios can be scaled by existing conservation efforts.