Two computer modeling and big data researchers at the Texas A&M AgriLife Blackland Research and Extension Center at Temple were part of a team award from a U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary recognizing contributions to farm production and conservation.

The award recognizes a computer modeling initiative that has shown sweeping potential for natural resources conservation interventions that are already being implemented at the national level.

Headshot of Theresa Pitts who is a computer meddling and big data researcher at the Texas A&M AgriLife Backland Research and Extension Center at Temple.
Theresa Pitts (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)
Headshotof Luca Doro, Ph.D., who is a computer meddling and big data researcher at the Texas A&M AgriLife Backland Research and Extension Center at Temple.
Luca Doro, Ph.D. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

The award was presented to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS, Conservation Effects Assessment Project, or CEAP, modeling team. In addition to eight collaborators from USDA-NRCS, award recipients from the Texas A&M AgriLife center in Temple are Luca Doro, Ph.D., research scientist, and Theresa Pitts, software applications developer.

The award was presented by Robert Bonnie, USDA undersecretary of farm production and conservation, for field contributions from October 2020-March 2022. Impacts of the team’s work, however, can be traced to their beginnings in 2003, said Raghavan “Srini” Srinivasan, director of the Texas A&M AgriLife center in Temple.

Data and survey integration for valuable insights

“The CEAP team continues to make great impacts in predictive computer modeling that can benefit a limitless array of applications in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources management and conservation,” Srinivasan said, also  noting a recent statewide award from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “We are very proud of their contributions to the field.”

Beginning in 2003, the CEAP team combined more than 19,000 farmer surveys with natural resource data from existing sources like the National Resources Inventory into a comprehensive database for predictive analysis across whole production systems.

The CEAP team’s March 2022 report on nearly two decades worth of predictive findings revealed a host of potential benefits to producers and natural resources. Those prospects included significant gains for soil health and soil carbon storage, while also identifying areas in need of additional and targeted nutrient management strategies.

The team was also able to identify the difficulty of controlling subsurface nitrogen and soluble phosphorus pathways — emphasizing the need for advanced technology solutions like tillage efficiency and a systems approach to conservation.

Next steps

Findings from the team’s report are being used to develop and enhance conservation strategies related to the USDA’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis. USDA-NRCS has also developed a comprehensive nutrient loss action plan that is refocusing and strengthening efforts across the agency. To bring solutions and educate producers, the USDA-NRCS action plan also includes the recently launched Source, Method, Rate, Assessment and Timing, or SMART Nutrient Management campaign — an effort to support and strengthen nutrient management. Organizers expect the campaign to result in water quality improvements across the U.S., save farmers money and increase resilience to climate events.

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