Using the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) to Optimize the Allocation of Scarce Conservation Funding

Date: 
Oct 2018

Issue

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.

Objective

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.

Approach

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.

Project Updates

December 2019

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 the ACPF scenarios, with a case study for Big Creek in Iowa. Additionally, financial data relative to direct establishment/installation and management costs of ACPF best management practices updated to 2019 dollars is available for the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois.
  2. State-level soil productivity indices were translated into 2018-2019 land rent as a proxy for the opportunity costs associated with 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, work is ongoing with USDA ARS personnel to design a user-friendly integration within the ACPF toolbox.
  3. Working with the 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.

Ways to refine the optimization protocol continue to be explored, such as by accounting for stacked effects from the use of multiple best management practices. A technical report will be available 2020.

Outreach during this period consisted of 1 presentation and 1 workshop.  

July 2019

During this reporting period:

  1. Financial data relative to direct establishment/installation and management costs of ACPF best management practices has been updated to 2019 dollars for the state of Iowa. For expanded assessment purposes, financial data relevant to Nebraska, Minnesota and Illinois is also being created.
  2. The team has been working on equations for Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois that 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 research team is developing the databases required for these calculations and using soil productivity data layers available within the gSSURGO soil database.
  3. The team has fully updated and re-conditioned the case-study watershed (Big Creek Lake Watershed in Polk County Iowa) using the new ACPF toolbox version 3.0 and continues to explore approaches to optimize use of the updated financial data. For the Big Creek watershed, using ACPF outputs, updated BMP direct costs and nitrogen efficiency reduction data, proof of concept optimization has been run using Matlab (e.g., least cost to achieve 40 percent N reductions). The team is in the process of translating Matlab optimization into Python language to build ArcGIS toolboxes.
  4. A poster and oral presentation were given at the 2019 SWCS International Annual Conference this July in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

December 2018

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.

 

September 2018

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.

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