Hydrologic modeling for eco-friendly land development In Brief: The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) could affect land development and help return developed land to a natural hydrologic state. SWAT quantifies and predicts the various impacts that development and land management practices have on water, sediment, and contaminant flow. Every time it rains and water streams toward storm drains, ASABE member Jaehak Jeong sees the effects that development has on the Lampasas River, which originates near the city of Hamilton and travels southeast for 75 miles through central Texas. Jeong develops hydrologic models at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Temple, Texas. He hopes that SWAT will change the way land is developed and help return developed land to its natural hydrologic state. Conceptually, SWAT could help prevent flash flooding, erosion, and sedimentation and improve water quality. SWAT is a computer-based simulation model that was developed to quantify and predict the various impacts that development and land management practices have on water, sediment, and contaminant flow in large, complex watersheds with varying soil types, land uses, and management conditions over long periods of time. Simulations can be applied to any changes within a watershed, including agricultural activities and logging. Simulation modeling is also a useful tool for developers, city planners, and landscape architects who are interested in how pavement and rooftops can change the land’s hydrology. “We’re focused on providing a modeling tool that offers various options to decrease the negative effects that development has on a watershed,” Jeong said. “There is no single answer. Every watershed is different and faces different challenges. SWAT modeling can address them all under various conditions and how they may change over time.” The modeling is made possible by layering GIS maps, including topographical, land use, and soil property maps. The model then simulates daily, hourly, or minute-by-minute rainfall-runoff processes to determine the hydrological properties of the simulation area. “We can read the topography to determine elevation changes, whether the land is urban, agricultural, forest, or rangeland, and whether the soil is clayey, like Houston Black, or sandy, and the pH balance and other properties that might affect soil hydrology,” Jeong said. “Then we can simulate a rain event, such as a half-inch of rain over 20 minutes, to estimate the runoff versus the infiltration or vegetation uptake.” SWAT modeling could help city planners and developers implement features that help return watersheds to more natural hydrologic states. Two benefits of improving watershed hydrology are reduced flash flooding and better water quality. The model can also estimate how much contamination, including pesticides and nutrients, flows to nearby water bodies based on input activities, such as pesticide applications on farm fields or fertilizer on residential lawns. The model can estimate how much of any application to the soil could be washed away. Simulations can even factor in potential management practices, such as scheduled street sweeping that removes trash, sediment, and other potential contaminants from urban pavements. “All activities in complex agricultural, urban, rural, or forest watersheds can be simulated,” Jeong said. In urban catchments, the simulation model can show how stormwater management methods, such as sand filters, retention basins, porous pavement, and rain gardens, can help bring developed land closer to its natural hydrological balance. Landscape architects can improve the hydrologic balance of watersheds by applying these methods strategically throughout the area to aid absorption, slow or stop runoff, and filter contaminants. Jeong said that city planners and officials are using SWAT modeling to study the implications of development and urban sprawl 30 to 50 years into the future. “They understand the impact of urbanization, so they are looking to set ordinances to minimize the effects of development on the city, its residents, and the environment,” he said. Jeong said that there is excitement among landscape architects, engineers, and other professionals who are inter-update ested in eco-friendly designs that could be beneficial to a watershed’s hydrology, including flood control and water quality management. Jeong has proposals pending with Texas municipalities and the city of Baltimore, Maryland, which is looking to determine the nitrogen yields flowing into Chesapeake Bay. Other countries, including Japan, are also using SWAT in various urban and agricultural applications. Momentum behind the simulation program is slowly building, and Jeong expects interest to rapidly increase as concerns mount regarding the detrimental effects of development on water quality and flooding. “It’s on a natural pathway toward this tool being exposed to professionals,” he said. “Once landscape architects, engineers, and city planners see the design benefits, I believe it will become a standard tool for sustainable urban and rural development in the future.” For more information, contact Adam Russell, Communication Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Adam.Russell@ag.tamu.edu. Monitoring animal health with remote sensing In Brief: Researchers are using remote sensing technologies to improve animal health and increase the efficiency of livestock production. A recent study monitored chickens to determine the best conditions for cage-free production. How many feeders are needed for a cage-free flock is one of the many production questions that need answering, said ASABE member Hongwei Xin, distinguished professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and director of the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University. A remote sensing study sought to shed some light on the question by tagging the chickens and monitoring their actions. “We wanted to understand the chickens’ behavior,” Xin said. “If given the choice in a given environment, what would the chickens do? And what would the chickens do if they had a different stocking density?” Xin and ASABE member Lie Tang, an associate professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State who specializes in agricultural automation and robotics, monitored the cage-free flock, measuring factors that included feed efficiency, indoor environment, egg production, and mortality. A transponder on the chickens’ legs was tracked using an antenna embedded in the floor. The system was combined with a 3D camera that recorded how the chickens moved. Individual chickens in the cage-free setting exhibited dynamic movement and other behaviors. “Bio-energetic information was assessed to provide the foundation for future designs in cage-free, or as we call them, alternative housing systems, because they are so new. We also wanted to see how much feeder space is adequate,” Xin said. Feed efficiency suffered because the chickens were more active. The study found that 10% to 25% more feed was needed for the same production level. The researchers are now using the same system with different lighting to see if lighting affects the chickens’ activity level. Xin foresees a time when robots might act as stockmen. Robots could be sent into flocks of broiler chickens to get the birds up to exercise, look for health problems, and remove carcasses. Xin is also leading a study with Anna Johnson, an associate professor of animal science at Iowa State, and ASABE member Tami Brown-Brandl, an agricultural engineer with the USDA Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, that will use remote sensing to determine if the size of swine farrowing crates needs to be changed for the health of the animals. “We’ve been using five-by-seven-foot farrowing crates since the 1950s.” Xin said. “The sows are getting bigger, and the litters are getting bigger. The question is, what is the proper size to accommodate today’s sows and litters?” For more information, contact Ed Adcock, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communication Service, email@example.com. Measuring a consumer’s contaminant footprint In Brief: People use a wide variety of chemicals in their everyday lives—over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, and personal care products—that become part of the wastewater stream, potentially harming the environment. A new tool developed by Penn State researchers can help consumers calculate their contaminant footprint. ASABE member Heather Gall, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Penn State, led the creation of the contaminants footprint calculator, which is a downloadable spreadsheet that consumers can use to document the types of products they have in their homes and calculate the potential water-quality impacts of those chemicals. Three students worked with Gall over a three-year period, as part of the summer undergraduate research program at Penn State, to develop the calculator, which one of the students presented at ASABE’s 2016 Annual International Meeting in Orlando, Florida. “Wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove these chemicals, so these products and their metabolites persist in the effluent,” Gall explained. “These chemicals are then introduced into the environment during sewer overflow events, wastewater effluent irrigation, and land application of biosolids.” Gall noted that many of the chemicals are known or suspected endocrine disruptors and cause adverse impacts to aquatic organisms even at trace concentrations. “There are currently no surface or drinking water standards for these chemicals. Therefore, the best way to reduce their presence in the environment is to reduce their use.” The goal of the project was to develop a calculator that the public can use to estimate an individual's footprint of emerging contaminants—primarily endocrine disrupting compounds, or EDCs. “Studies have shown that these compounds can cause gender-skewing in fish and amphibians, in which organisms develop intersex characteristics,” Gall said. “This has been a problem in rivers, and although pesticides are thought to be a major cause, personal care products also are a factor.” Modeled after existing water and carbon footprint calculators, the spreadsheet contains lists of products grouped into three categories: cleaners, laundry, and health and beauty. Users conduct an inventory of these products in their home and insert the amount of each product they own by volume (in milliliters) or mass (in grams). The Excel-based calculator is programmed with average values of the EDCs in each product, which enables it to estimate the user’s contaminant footprint based on the products present in the home at that moment. The results are summarized visually in several graphics to help with interpretation. “The EDC footprint is estimated in grams, so the total mass of EDCs in products owned by an individual family may seem insignificant,” Gall said. “But given the potential environmental impact of these contaminants, even at trace concentrations, the estimated footprints are significant.” To help consumers understand the implications, the amounts are presented to show a hypothetical total impact if everyone in the U.S. was using the same amount of EDC-containing products as the person using the calculator. The mass is then converted to the equivalent number of commercial aircraft to provide a way for the user to visualize the results. “If users want to reduce their EDC footprint, the calculator helps them to identify what products are contributing the most and make informed decisions about how to reduce that footprint,” Gall said. “For example, if laundry detergent is the single largest contributor to the total footprint, they may want to consider replacing conventional laundry detergent with a product made from plant-derived ingredients.” Future goals include a web-based version of the calculator that would allow large-scale, anonymous data collection, which would support research on the typical ranges of EDC footprints for households nationally and globally. “With that information, we could show users how their footprints compare to others,” Gall said, “which could encourage users to reduce their footprints, particularly those who have relatively large footprints.” Development of an associated smartphone app would allow users to scan products as they shop and link to a database that estimates the EDC footprint of various products, helping them make more informed buying decisions. “Our hope is that this calculator will serve as a tool to increase awareness of EDCs and their potential effects on environmental quality,” Gall said. “We hope it will be used in classrooms and shared with families and friends as a way to engage the public about EDCs and the role we all play in contributing to their presence in the environment.” The calculator is available for download at Penn State Extension’s Water Quality website: http://extension.psu.edu/naturalresources/water/drinking-water/water-testing/pollutants/endocrinedisrupting-compounds-calculator/view. For more information, contact Chuck Gill, Penn State Public Relations Specialist/News Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org. Capturing high-quality data from soil and from space In Brief: Keeping tabs on soil moisture using sensors close to or in the ground has a connection with similar work using satellites. ASABE member Amy Kaleita, an associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, has many reasons for working with remote sensing. “I got into sensors because I think they’re cool and fun,” she said, “But also as a graduate student, I did enough field work by hand to realize that we’d never be able to answer big questions this way, because collecting high-quality data on the ground with traditional techniques is too time-consuming and resource intensive.” Much of Kaleita’s research deals with soil moisture monitoring using sensors close to or in the soil. Brian Hornbuckle, a research partner and associate professor of agronomy at Iowa State, is doing similar work using satellites. Getting better data on soil moisture would benefit producers in many ways. “If you understand soil moisture, then you can integrate that information into decision-making tools and hydrology models to help understand the ripple effects of those properties,” Kaleita said. Getting a better handle on soil moisture would also give scientists a way to track water and what might be carried with it, such as nutrients. Weather and crop forecasting could be improved with more accurate and timely soil moisture data. “This is a big weakness in weather forecasting,” Hornbuckle said. “We’re hoping after we have good measurements of soil moisture, we’ll be able to model this effect better and have better forecasts, not just next week or next month but for the next growing season.” Weather forecasters are interested in county-level data, but producers would like it closer to home. The advantage of satellites is that the information is consistent and is collected every other day around the globe. A disadvantage is that just one value represents the average conditions over a large area, sometimes as large as a typical Iowa county. Hornbuckle’s team is trying to increase the accuracy of the NASA and European Space Agency satellites, which are reading drier soil than Kaleita’s ground-based sensors are measuring. After they correct the satellite readings, they can deliver the data to Kaleita for “disaggregation” using the ground-based sensors to reduce the data to a scale that is useful to producers. Farmers could combine the soil moisture data with other information to track the behavior of their fields. For example, they might use it to adjust planting depth to put the seed where the soil moisture and temperature are optimal. If there is an area of the field where water moves quickly, they could adjust the fertilizer application to account for potential losses. “We have the technology to vary the management across a field, but what is often lacking is the data that would support setting the rates at different levels in different locations of the field,” Kaleita said. For more information, contact Ed Adcock, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communication Service, email@example.com. Clemson students build a cotton picker to increase agricultural awareness In Brief: Students in Clemson University’s agricultural mechanization and business program have built a mechanical cotton picker and taken it on the road to raise awareness about agriculture and teach others about cotton harvesting. ASABE member Hunter Massey, a lecturer in Clemson’s Department of Agricultural Sciences and a graduate student in the College of Plant and Environmental Sciences, is directing the project. “We plan to take the cotton picker to high school programs, expos, and other events,” said Massey. Students built the mobile cotton picker from the ground up to demonstrate cotton harvesting. A monitor in the cab shows video of a cotton field. Riders can watch the heads engage, the spindles turn, and cotton move up the suction duct to the basket, all while simulating the action of driving along rows of cotton. The cotton picker is a Clemson Capstone research project. A Capstone project can be chosen in place of comprehensive exams as a final research project prior to graduation. John Platte, a sophomore, was responsible for wiring the cab for air conditioning. The air conditioning unit is located in a bin on the back of the cab. Platte had to create a duct system for the air conditioning unit. “It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I liked being able to apply what I learned in the classroom. By taking a fabrication class, I knew what tools to use, and what the different metals were.” Other students who took charge of the project included ASABE member Brennan Teddy, Michael Kule, and Charlie Westbrook. Work on the cotton picker began in 2015, when students made the spindles turn to make the machine appear as if it was really picking cotton. “This is the third group of students who have worked on the cotton picker,” Massey said. “This project has encouraged teamwork and has allowed the students to work together to achieve a common goal.” Clemson students took the cotton picker on its maiden voyage to the 2016 Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia, and Massey and the students are eager to travel to more events and spread the word about agriculture. “Our program has a 100% job placement rate for students after they graduate,” Massey said. “This is a field with a high demand for employees.” According to Massey, about 200 students are enrolled in the Clemson agricultural mechanization and business program. For information on how to have the mobile cotton picker appear at your event, contact Hunter Massey, firstname.lastname@example.org, and for further news, contact A. Denise Attaway, email@example.com. A collaborative project for improving food safety in China In Brief: Every year, foodborne diseases cost over $70 billion and cause more than 600 million cases of illness and thousands of deaths worldwide. University of Arkansas researchers are working with the Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center, as well as Chinese universities and poultry companies, to improve the safety of poultry products in China. The project is funded by a $2.3 million grant from the Walmart Foundation. ASABE Fellow Yanbin Li, primary investigator and distinguished professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Arkansas, said that the project has two main focuses: using biosensing technology to detect pathogenic bacteria and antibiotic residues in the poultry supply chain, and developing dynamic risk-assessment models integrated with supply chain management to help the industry and regulators make better decisions for ensuring food safety. The project encompasses the entire poultry supply chain, from the farms where chickens are raised all the way to the kitchens where meals are prepared. “The scope of the project became larger and larger,” Li said. He realized that improving food safety across the supply chain would require researchers from several different disciplines. Li is working with researchers from the Supply Chain Management Research Center in the Sam M. Walton College of Business; the Reliasoft Risk, Reliability and Maintenance Lab in the College of Engineering; and the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science at the University of Arkansas. The project also involves researchers from three Chinese universities and one Chinese research institute. In addition, three Chinese poultry companies are providing samples and feedback for the project. Li explained that food safety is uniquely challenging in China because farms and processors of many different sizes supply poultry, and this kind of system is more difficult to monitor and control. Currently, in order to test poultry products for harmful amounts of bacteria or antibiotics, limited samples are sent to a lab, which is time-consuming and expensive. In-field test methods at farms, processing plants, and markets would allow more samples to be tested at low cost, and data could be quickly collected to monitor the whole supply chain. However, Li also explained that rapid screening of contaminants in poultry is not enough if the industry and regulators don’t have plans to address issues. That’s why risk-assessment models are an important component of the project. The researchers are working on computational models that can take into account the way bacteria spread and reproduce, as well as how bacterial populations grow under different conditions. The risk-assessment models will address the entire poultry supply chain, from the conditions on the farm, including water, feed, and fertilizer, through slaughter and processing of the meat, to transportation, storage, marketing, and preparation. Li said that this broad and systematic approach could only be achieved through collaboration among many different disciplines. In addition to addressing the problem of foodborne illness, the project will examine antibiotic residues in poultry products. Antibiotic use on Chinese poultry farms varies and often results in antibiotic residues in products. Li hopes this project will help the industry and regulators decide how to effectively limit antibiotic use to prevent antibiotic resistance problems. The impact of this project extends beyond China. “It will affect not only the poultry supply chain in China, but also other countries, especially in Asia. These efforts must be global, because our food supply chain is global,” Li said. “I am so glad we have people at the University of Arkansas with the expertise who can work together and carry out the tasks in this project. And the companies in China really wanted to join this project and learn something, to prepare for the future.” For more information, contact Camilla Shumaker, Director of Communications, UA College of Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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