The Texas A&M AgriLife Blackland Research Center in Temple, TX is known for developing computer simulation models to assess changes in land use. The models address soil, nutrient and pesticide losses that affect water quality and help researchers identify best management practices. These models enhance productivity, profitability and management of water supplies during extreme weather conditions. Scientists across the world use these same models to develop conservation programs, identifying limitations to agricultural productivity and pollutants affecting water quality.
Key Research Areas
- Agricultural Information Systems
- Agro-Ecosystem Research and Simulation Modeling
- Water Quality and Conservation
- Livestock Management
- Land resources
- Urban SWAT: An urban version of SWAT has been developed to simulate Low Impact Development features such as stormwater detention, built wetlands, and previous pavements. The City of Austin is particularly vulnerable to these problems due to heavy downpours and rocky landscape. They are using Urban SWAT for comprehensive land use planning to protect property and the environment by reducing the impact of flood, erosion and water pollution. The capability to simulate stream bank erosion was also added to SWAT to assist the City in establishing building codes for stream setbacks and help developers design effective riparian areas.
- Grazing Animal Nutrition Laboratory: More than 16,000 samples were processed (60% increase from previous year) to provide management recommendations to over 3000 livestock producers (a 30% increase over the same period) from Texas to the Canadian border. The GAN Lab is also working with USDA-ARS research programs in several states and has established labs in Kenya, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Mail, and Brazil.
- Drought Monitoring: A Letter of Agreement was signed with UN-Food & Agriculture Organization to expand the water and forage monitoring network of the Livestock Early Warning System in Kenya. The Kenya Drought Monitoring Authority will use the system as part of regular service to pastoralists and for national drought contingency funding.
- Ride Paddy Water Quality: The APEX model is being used to support ag-environmental policy development for the Rural Development Administration of the South Korean government. APEX_PADDY is a rice paddy water quality modeling algorithm developed in collaboration with RDA and recently featured in 28 national and regional newspapers and a professional magazine.
A team of researchers at the Blackland Center developed a set of simulation models and databases that serve as the foundation for agricultural and economic decision making around the world. The models evaluate the impacts of changes in technologies and climate on the productivity and sustainability of agriculture and natural resources.
The core models are EPIC (Environmental Policy Integrated Climate), APEX (Agricultural Policy Environmental eXtender), and SWAT (Soil and Water Assessment Tool). These models assess the impacts of land and crop management practices on agriculture production and the environment on farms and watersheds of all sizes.
The collaborative team includes soil, water, plant, and environmental researchers. The team spans three agencies: Texas A&M AgriLife Research, USDA Agricultural Research Service, and USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.
Research Contact: Dr. Jaehak Jeong
The Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP)
A national effort funded by USDA NRCS has developed an unprecedented capacity for natural resource assessment and analysis through the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). CEAP is the first of its kind to integrate powerful and improved analytical models and methods with investments such as the National Resource Inventory, geospatial databases, conservation practice implementation data, and partner monitoring data.
The project focuses on quantifying the environmental benefits of conservation practices and programs. It relies on a large partnership with funding and expertise of over 60 entities including Federal and State agencies, universities and non-profit organizations.
The Temple-based team includes federal and state researchers who employ the most current scientific understanding of soil, crop, animal, weather and biophysical processes. This knowledge is then combined with information from farmer surveys, watershed assessments, ecological site descriptions, soil surveys, and regional case studies. The APEX and SWAT models are used to assess the environmental benefits of conservation practices on croplands, grazing lands, and wetlands across the country.
USDA-NRCS and the US Congress use this information to assign a value to conservation practices implemented under the US Farm Bill based on cost and environmental benefits. Tracking these benefits over time also allows policy-makers and program managers to more effectively implement and modify existing programs.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research Contact: Dr. Tom Gerik, Resident Director
USDA NRCS Research Contact: Dr. Lee Norfleet, Model Team Leader
Urban Water Management
Rapid land development without sufficient planning puts the city at risk for floods, damage to fish habitats, and less resilience to droughts. That’s why the Hydrologic Modeling Team at the Blackland Research and Extension Center is working with Austin, Texas to improve water management in the city.
The team has updated and expanded the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model to simulate the hydrology of urban watersheds in Austin, TX. As a part of this project, the team is developing tools for rainfall-runoff modeling at sub-hourly time steps, stormwater best management practices, and green infrastructures to improve downstream water quantity and quality.
The City of Austin uses the enhanced SWAT model as a planning tool for controlled and coordinated land developments with consideration of water impacts. Blackland Research and Extension Center are working with the City and a software company to build a tool for engineering consultants. The software will utilize the SWAT model to design urban stormwater management systems as part of land development projects. The success of this technique shows promise for expanding urban water management and modeling programs to other regions of Texas and throughout the country.
Research Contact: Dr. Jaehak Jeong
What can 60 years of military training due to land erosion? Researchers at the Blackland Center are monitoring just that. Located in Central Texas, Fort Hood is one of the largest military installations in the world with combat training as its primary mission.
Over sixty years of training exercises with heavy armor units have significantly degraded the land by accelerating the soil and vegetation erosion processes. This also impacts downstream water resources that provide drinking water for nearly a quarter million Central Texans.
The Center’s Water Science Laboratory has monitored streamflow and associated sediment export from many Fort Hood training areas since 1995 using a Continuous Monitoring System. This system represents actual rangeland conditions so adjustments can be made to the training schedule to minimize vegetation damage and erosion.