Scientists at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently developed a simple, web-based tool that helps producers easily understand the quality of water flowing off their fields – the Water Quality Index for Agricultural Runoff (WQIag).
“Water quality is complex,” said NRCS National Water Quality and Quantity team leader Shaun McKinney. “Experts usually focus on one aspect of water quality – such as temperature, nutrients or pesticide content – instead of thinking about a more complete picture.”
On the WQIag website, producers input information about their field, such as slope, soil characteristics, nutrient and pest management, tillage practices, and finally, conservation practices. The WQIag calculates these variables into a single rating on a 10-point scale: 0 being very poor; 10 being excellent.
Though some variables – such as slope and soil type – won’t change, producers can adjust other factors for a quick estimate of how conservation impacts water quality. A few clicks calculate the value of less tillage, less fertilizer and other conservation practices, which makes it versatile to use.