National Academies Press: OpenBook

Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture (1993)

Chapter: Resisting Erosion and Runoff

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Suggested Citation:"Resisting Erosion and Runoff." National Research Council. 1993. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2132.
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Page 6

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 6 Efficient Use of Inputs Agricultural production inevitably generates a certain mass of residual products including nutrients, sediments, pesticides, salts, and trace elements that can become pollutants. The emphasis of traditional conservation programs has been to prevent pollutants from leaving the farming system by reducing erosion and runoff. New programs are needed that reduce the amount of potential pollutants produced as a by-product of farming by improving the way nutrients, pesticides, and irrigation water are used. Increasing the efficiency of nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation water use reduces the total residual mass of nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides, salts, and trace elements that can become pollutants. In some cases, efficiency can be achieved by using fewer nutrients or pesticides or both or less irrigation water to produce the same yield; in other cases, efficiency can be achieved by increasing the yield while using the same mass of inputs. Many technologies and management methods are already available that promise to dramatically increase the efficiency of nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation water use; but they need to be more widely implemented. In many cases, the cost of achieving greater efficiency in input use is offset by reduced costs of production. In those regions and farming systems where these economic incentives are significant, substantial and rapid progress toward preventing water quality problems may be possible. (See Chapters 6, 7, 8, 10, and 11 for discussions of nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticide, irrigation, and manure management.) Resisting Erosion and Runoff Conservation tillage and residue management systems are well understood and effective means of reducing erosion and runoff. A great diversity of tillage and residue management systems is available to producers. Many of these systems result in dramatic decreases in erosion and runoff from farming systems and from agricultural watersheds. The major opportunity to improve the effectiveness of these systems is to increase their use on lands that are most vulnerable to soil quality degradation or that most contribute to water pollution. In some regions the applicability of these systems may be limited, however, because of unfavorable physical or economic factors.

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Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture Get This Book
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How can the United States meet demands for agricultural production while solving the broader range of environmental problems attributed to farming practices? National policymakers who try to answer this question confront difficult trade-offs.

This book offers four specific strategies that can serve as the basis for a national policy to protect soil and water quality while maintaining U.S. agricultural productivity and competitiveness. Timely and comprehensive, the volume has important implications for the Clean Air Act and the 1995 farm bill.

Advocating a systems approach, the committee recommends specific farm practices and new approaches to prevention of soil degradation and water pollution for environmental agencies.

The volume details methods of evaluating soil management systems and offers a wealth of information on improved management of nitrogen, phosphorus, manure, pesticides, sediments, salt, and trace elements. Landscape analysis of nonpoint source pollution is also detailed.

Drawing together research findings, survey results, and case examples, the volume will be of interest to federal, state, and local policymakers; state and local environmental and agricultural officials and other environmental and agricultural specialists; scientists involved in soil and water issues; researchers; and agricultural producers.

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