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USDA forms watershed research network

Scientists at USDA's Agricultural Research Service are doing ground-saving research on watersheds across the United States, but they aren't always able to work with all of the information their colleagues have gathered.

So members of the research community and private groups welcomed a USDA announcement Monday that the ARS has set up a Long Term Agroecosystem Research network, starting with 10 research sites. 

Instead of a ribbon cutting, scientists and conservationists met at one of those sites, the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa, for a two-hour talk on ways to make that research more useful for farmers and ranchers as well as researchers.

Ann Bartuska, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics,said the ultimate goal of the network is "actually connecting all of the academic institutions...and farmers and ranchers who have a stake in the outcome."

The network will work with some 60 academic institutions, including Iowa State University, where the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment is located. 

The research may one day help farmers adapt to changing climate and to manage resources in an even more sustainable way. 

Bartuska said she hoped that one day the research may be able to answer tough questions about drought, for example--"Is it one year, or the beginning of a decade long problem?"

Harry Ahrentholtz, president of Agriculture's Clean Water Alliance in Iowa, said that groups like his, which works with nearly all of the fertilizer providers in the Des Moines and Raccoon River watersheds, can bring the results of research on watershed management to farmers. The group has partnered with the Iowa Soybean Association to demonstrate ways to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff into waterways.

"The Alliance has contact with virtually all of the producers in the watershed," he said. 

ARS maintains approximately 22 watersheds and experimental range research sites nationwide, with sites in 15 states. Some of the ARS experimental watershed research sites date to 1912, while others were established as recently as 2007.  The initial LTAR network will include 10 of these sites, with more sites to be added later.  The 10 sites chosen are affiliated with ARS research units located at: Ames, Iowa; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Columbia, Missouri; El Reno, Oklahoma; Las Cruces, New Mexico; Mandan, North Dakota; Pullman, Washington; Tifton, Georgia; Tucson, Arizona; and University Park, Pennsylvania.  ARS will be seeking partnerships in network research, as well as in development or selection of additional sites, with universities, other federal agencies and other interested parties.

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