The Water Quality Index for Agricultural Runoff (WQIag) — inspired by the Dow Jones Index — gives producers a complete picture of their water quality instead of focusing on just one aspect such as temperature, nutrients or pesticide content, says Shaun McKinney, NRCS national water quality and quantity team leader.
The tool is currently in the pilot phase, but NRCS engineers say they hope to eventually offer the WQIag as a free smartphone app.
It works like this: on the WQIag website, producers input variables about their field into the index, such as slope, soil characteristics, nutrient and pest management, tillage practices and conservation practices. The WQIag calculates these variables into a single rating on a 10-point scale, with 0 being very poor and 10 being excellent.
Though some variables — such as slope and soil type — won’t change, producers can adjust other factors for an estimate of how conservation impacts water quality. A few clicks calculate the value of less tillage, less fertilizer and other conservation practices, which makes the tool more versatile, the NRCS says.
McKinney says it’s equally useful for corn farmers in Ohio and coffee growers in Hawaii.
NRCS partner Field-to-Market has adapted the WQIag for its use, offering it as part of its fieldprint calculator. The NRCS team is using feedback from NRCS field technicians to fine tune the software.
The WQIag joins several other online tools developed in recent months to help improve agribusiness companies’ sustainability. Late last month the Innovation Center for US Dairy said producers were testing its Farm Smart online tool to help dairies calculate their environmental footprint.
Another tool developed by USDA scientists can be used to develop whole-farm estimates of phosphorus losses and the most effective strategies for reducing phosphorus losses from cattle farms.
Photo Credit: Tim McCabe, NRCS