SERA46: Framework for Nutrient Reduction Strategy Collaboration: The Role for Land Grant Universities

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

SERA46: Framework for Nutrient Reduction Strategy Collaboration: The Role for Land Grant Universities

Duration: 10/01/2019 to 09/30/2024

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

The Gulf of Mexico covers approximately 600,000 square miles and is the ninth largest body of water in the world. Water enters the Gulf through the Yucatan Strait, circulates as the Loop Current, and exits through the Florida Strait eventually forming the Gulf Stream. Coastal wetlands in the Gulf encompass over five million acres (about half of the U.S. total) and serve as important habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species. Gulf fisheries are some of the most productive in the world. It is home to 141 federally protected species (102 are endangered) including fish, birds, turtles, alligators, coral, and plants.

FIGURE 1. Mississippi and Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) in the USA and the general location of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico – to the southwest of New Orleans. ( ATTACHMENT)

The Mississippi River accounts for nearly two-thirds of the freshwater flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi-Missouri River is the fourth longest in the world (3,710 miles or 5,970 km) draining the third largest river basin in the world (1.2 million mi2 or 3.1 million km2) (Figure 1). The Basin includes all or parts of 31 states and 2 Canadian Provinces. Tributaries to Lake Itasca in Minnesota are the source of the Mississippi River. About 70% of the flow discharges into the Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles (80 km) southeast of New Orleans in Louisiana and 30% of the discharge is through the Atchafalaya River delta, to the west of New Orleans. More than 72 million people live in the Mississippi River Basin. It is the migration corridor for 60 percent of North America's bird species and supports 25 percent of its fish species. The River provides water to more than 50 cities and 18 million people.

Annually, the United States grows more than one-third of the corn and soybeans in the World and much of this production is in the Mississippi River Basin (USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service, Large amounts of wheat, cotton and rice are grown in the Basin and it contains extensive cattle and hog operations. More than 70% of the nitrogen and phosphorus delivered to the Gulf of Mexico is associated with agricultural and other non-point activities (Alexander et al., 2008).

It is estimated that prior to 1980 10.4 million hectares of the 18.1 million hectares of wetlands in the Mississippi River Basin were drained primarily to support crop production (Hey and Philippi, 1995). From 1980 to 2005, nitrogen loadings ranged from 0.8 million to 2.2 million metric tons per year. Over the same period, phosphorus loadings were between 0.08 million and 0.18 million metric tons per year (Aulenbach et al., 2007). Nitrate loads in the Mississippi River increased about threefold from the 1950s to the mid-1990s (Goolsby and Battaglin, 2001). High nutrient loads, loss of floodplains and wetlands, population growth, anthropogenic changes to the landscape, increased combustion of fossil fuel, engineering of the river system, and point sources contribute to water quality impairments in the Basin, hypoxia in the Gulf, and a decline in the assimilative capacity and resilience of these systems.

Since 1985, the size of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico was more than 3,860 mi2 (10,000 km2) in most years and exceeded 7,720 mi2 (20,000 km2) in several years within the last decade (Figure 2). While only about 30% of the size of the hypoxic zone in the Baltic Sea, the Gulf Hypoxia is the second largest in the world. Annual sizes of the hypoxic zone range from areas larger than the State of Delaware to the size of New Jersey. In 2017 the hypoxic zone reached 8,776 mi2 (22,720 km2), the largest on record since standardized mapping began in 1985 (Rabalais and Turner, 2017). Nutrient impacts on the Gulf of Mexico, The Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and other water resources have resulted in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requiring states to readdress numeric nutrient standard for rivers and lakes. In 2010, Wisconsin was the first state to set phosphorus standards.

FIGURE 2. Size of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico from 1985-2014 (source: N.N. Rabalais, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium,, R.E. Turner, Louisiana State University. Funded by: NOAA, map originating from: ATTACHMENT)

States in the Mississippi/Ohio River Basin are developing and implementing strategies to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading to their local surface waters and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to reduce the size of the hypoxic zone. These efforts are being integrated through the Hypoxia Task Force (HTF), a collaborative mix of environmental quality, agricultural, and conservation agencies from twelve of the basin states and five federal agencies ( Established in 1997 to partner on local, state, and regional efforts to reduce nutrient pollution. It encourages a holistic approach that takes into account upstream sources and downstream impacts. The HTF is assisted by a Coordinating Committee (CC), which is the day-to-day coordinating body for recommending actions to the HTF and facilitating implementation of those actions. The CC is comprised of various subcommittees and working groups to assure good communication with on-the-ground implementers.

In 2008, the HTF adopted its second Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan
( The Action Plan has a goal of reducing the five-year running average size of the hypoxia zone to less than 5,000 square kilometers. To achieve this goal and improve water quality in the Basin, a 45% reduction in total nitrogen and total phosphorus load, relative to the average 1980 – 1996 load may be necessary. The Action Plan identifies specific actions for stakeholders throughout the Mississippi River Basin, with the development and implementation of state nutrient reduction strategies as its key priority. The strategies are comprehensive in nature and address both point and nonpoint sources of nutrient pollution. Point sources are regulated under EPA’s NPDES program while nonpoint sources, mainly agriculture, are largely currently unregulated. Both sources must significantly reduce the loss of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from the landscape for the strategies to be successful. A reassessment of the 2008 Action plan was published
( In the reassessment the HTF state:

Research on the Gulf ecosystem since the last reassessment (2005–2007) has led to a more comprehensive understanding of factors regulating hypoxia, but the overwhelming majority of these studies have reinforced the central tenet of the 2008 Action Plan that “reducing nutrient loadings from the various sources in the Basin addresses the most critical and controllable cause of hypoxia.” Reducing nutrient inputs into the MARB and Gulf will continue to be the Task Force’s overall approach towards reducing the size of the Gulf hypoxic zone and protecting in-basin waters. The advancement of new tools and analyses has also better refined our approaches to controlling nutrient loads.

The 2017 HTF Report to Congress also identified goals of reduce the size of the hypoxic zone to less than 5,000 square kilometers by 2035 and set an interim target of a 20% reduction in nitrogen or phosphorus loading by 2025, relative to the 1980-1996 baseline average loading to the Gulf of Mexico.

In the United States, many states have developed, or in the process of developing, best management practice (BMP) guidelines on how to reduce agricultural impacts on water quality while sustaining productivity and profitability. An example is The Agricultural BMP Handbook for Minnesota ( Land Grant Universities (LGUs) are uniquely positioned to assist each state within the basin and the HTF as a whole in the development and implementation of the state level nutrient reduction strategies. These LGUs conduct research ranging from basic discovery to on-the-ground applications of the science of soil conservation, nutrient movement, water quality and human behavior. Extension specialists and educators put the science into practice by educating farmers and agribusinesses, conducting on-farm research, and understanding farm level economics and farmer decision making. LGUs in each state have expertise in the local soils, climates, people and solutions, and are a highly trusted source of objective research-based information helpful to all entities actively exploring solutions to nutrient pollution. In addition, through USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and formal and informal committees, faculty in LGUs regularly collaborate on multi-state research and extension education projects. An example is the science-based Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy analysis that evaluated about 20 million acres, that incorporated corn as part of the crop rotation, and focused on the potential water quality impacts of these crop systems on the Gulf of Mexico

Related, Current and Previous Work

In 2014, Hypoxia Task Force member agencies executed a non-funded cooperative agreement with the Directors of the 12 Mississippi River Basin State Land Grant University Experiment Station and Extension Service Directors (Appendix A). This agreement provided a framework for greater collaboration at various levels among Mississippi/Ohio River Basin state agencies with their LGU to address agriculture’s contribution to excessive nutrient loadings. The Land Grant component of this collaboration was formalized as a USDA-NIFA approved Extension and Research Activity (ERA) in October 2014. Over the next 12 months, SERA-46 members worked with the HTF to develop a set of shared priorities that focused on: 1) strengthening networks, 2) conservation systems research and outreach, and 3) monitoring, calibration, and validation. Specific sub-priorities identified as first steps included:

1. Identify common attributes and gaps across state nutrient reduction strategies to highlight opportunities for cross-state information sharing;
2. Translate science regarding the issues and solutions in tile-drained areas into accessible information for states to adopt into policies to address nutrient use and movement;
3. Develop and implement a social indicators system that will guide, evaluate and advance implementation of strategies to reduce nutrient loss from agricultural lands across the 12 HTF states;
4. Create a network of watershed practitioners and farmer leaders to strengthen the implementation effectiveness of nutrient management strategies that reduce nutrient movement;
5. Develop training and educational materials that will provide basic information about agriculture and nutrient management to agency staff, conservation NGOs and others who are less familiar with production agriculture.

In support of sub-priority 1 (State Nutrient Strategies), SERA-46 conducted a semantic and qualitative analysis of the 12 state nutrient management strategies within the context of the EPA’s guidance contained in the 2009 Stoner memo. Results of these analyses have been presented at the HTF semi-annual meeting and individual state nutrient summits and will be released as a white-paper and a journal article. With support of a grant from the Walton Family Foundation ($344,954), SERA-46 members conducted a comprehensive analysis of three complete science assessments developed by Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota as a component of their state nutrient management strategies. This analysis was reported in the Journal of Environmental Management (Christianson et al 2017) and has been presented in numerous forums to the HTF and member states. To help states in development of standardized tracking of nonpoint source (NPS) metrics, SERA-46 partnered with the HTF, pilot states, and the Walton Family Foundation ($314,308) to support the development of NPS metrics and a common measurement framework.

In support of sub-priority 2 (Translate Science in Tile Drained Areas), members of SERA-46 partnered with NCERA-217 to deliver and make available to HTF members an Extension publication entitled “Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest (University of Illinois Extension, 2016)”. With support from the North Central Region Water Network, members also developed multimedia outreach methods to ensure accessibility and use by stakeholders, available at .
In support of sub-priority 3 (Social Indicators), SERA-46 members secured a two-year grant (totaling $151,440) from EPA and a second award ($13,500) from the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) to develop and implement consistent measures to track progress in the human dimension of reducing nutrient pollution within the basin and across the northern Gulf. The consortium established a Social Science Work Group that coordinates with a larger social science work group, the NC-1190 Committee. Phase 1 of the project was completed in September 2017 with the release of “Social Indicators to Accelerate Implementation of Nutrient Reduction Strategies.” Phase 2 began in September 2017 and was completed in August 2018. Outcomes of these projects include numerous facilitated webinars, hosting of the “Applied Research Symposium: The Social Dimensions of Nutrient Reduction”, and establishment of a website “Human Dimensions in Water” ( ).
In support of sub-priority 4 (Network of Practitioners) SERA-46 members have: 1) received a grant from EPA ($247,895) in support of a project entitled “Building capacity for watershed leadership”, 2) developed draft needs assessment in watershed leadership and training, 3) hosted a Great Lakes to Gulf Watershed Leadership Summit for farmer, farm advisor, extension, federal, state, and local agencies, and NGOs, 4) engaged two pilot watersheds – one in Ohio and one in Arkansas – to help begin building out the network on local watersheds, 5) received complementary funding from the Environmental Defense Fund and Walton Family Foundation ($60,000) to explore and share best practices for “getting to scale,” and 6) secured a grant from USDA-SARE ($78,268) to implement a train-the-trainer model to train county extension agents in conservation planning and delivery. Collectively, SERA-46 members have secured $1,210,365 in support of the shared priorities developed in collaboration with the HTF.

To keep the HTF appraised on progress towards the shared priorities, the SERA-46 Executive Committee participates in monthly conference calls with the HTF Coordinating Committee, and reports directly to the full HTF at its spring and fall meetings. SERA-46 has been invited to make presentations at the public portion of the semi-annual HTF meetings. In recognition of the contributions of SERA-46, the EPA featured the collaboration with LGUs in its 2017 report to Congress. In association with the Spring 2018 HTF meeting, the SERA-46 Executive Committee had the opportunity to meet with congressional delegations and staffers to communicate the important role of LGUs in supporting the HTF goals of reducing nutrient transport and Gulf of Mexico hypoxia. SERA-46 is by necessity multidisciplinary with participation of soil scientists, agronomists, engineers, economists, ecologists, and social scientists. This diverse team of scientists work collaboratively to implement science and deliver technologies that inform adoption of conservation practices and cropping systems that are productive, profitable, and sustainable in modern multi-functional landscapes. The wealth of partnerships and collaborators represented by the 12 participating institutions in the Southern and North Central Regions have created a vast network of practitioners that collectively bring to bear unprecedented expertise around shared priorities in a fully integrated model of research and extension.

EPA’s liaison to the HTF, Ms. Katie Flahive describes the impact of SERA 46 as follows: “SERA-46’s contribution to states strategies, implementation, and coordination across the research and extension partners in the full basin is unmatched and is a significant driver of our collective progress.”

A continuation of SERA-46 is warranted to maintain momentum in accomplishing the above objectives, as well as to complete ongoing projects toward evolving objectives that have been developed as working shared priorities with the HTF (Appendix B). This proposal outlines continuation of work to provide a framework for expanded collaboration at various levels among Mississippi/Ohio River Basin states tasked with developing a nutrient reduction strategy for their state along with their LGU that has the research and extension education capacity to address agriculture’s contribution to excessive nutrient loadings.

Internal and External Linkages

  • Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Leaders

  • North Central Region Water Network

  • Hypoxia Task Force and Coordinating Committee and the state and federal agencies represented by those groups

  • Other multi-state projects addressing hypoxia and nutrient loss related issues:

    • SERA 17, Organization to Minimize Nutrient Loss from the Landscape

    • NCERA 217, Drainage design and management practices to improve water quality

    • NC 1195, Enhancing nitrogen utilization in corn based cropping systems to increase yield, improve profitability and minimize environmental impacts

    • SERA 43, Southern Region Integrated Water Resources Coordinating Committee

    • NC 1190, Catalysts for Water Resources Protection and Restoration: Applied Social Science Research

  • The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, American Farmland Trust, Walton Family Foundation

  • Farm Bureau

  • The Fertilizer Institute, International Plant Nutrition Institute

  • Pioneer Hi-Bred, Monsanto, and other seed companies

  • Mosaic, PotashCorp, and other fertilizer companies

  • Other state and federal agencies not represented on the HTF or CC

  • National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA)


  • Southern and North Central SARE

  • National Corn Growers, United Soybean Board, and other key commodity organizations

  • Local Conservation Districts


  1. Establish and strengthen relationships that can serve the missions of multiple organizations addressing nutrient management and environmental quality.
    Comments: a. Support regular communication and collaboration among LGUs, HTF members, and other partners to strengthen multi-state approaches regarding agricultural and environmental research and outreach b. Encourage intrastate interactions among state agencies, universities and others to meet state-level nutrient reduction goals c. Leverage the synergy of the HTF-LGU relationship to seek/secure funding to support multi-state initiatives that address HTF goals
  2. Strengthen the knowledge base for discovery of new tools and practices as well as for the continual validation of recommended practices.
    Comments: a. Strengthen the science base that informs our understanding of the efficacy of nutrient and water management strategies at multiple temporal and spatial scales b. Refine and increase use of appropriate nutrient and water decision support tools for better decision-making c. Promote environmental assessment research to improve soil and water quality
  3. Improve the coordination and delivery of educational programming and increase the implementation effectiveness of nutrient management strategies for agricultural and non-agricultural audiences.
    Comments: a. Customize educational programming (and information sharing) to the learning styles of the various audience segments - Farmers, Farm Advisors, Agencies, Extension Agents, and general public b. Increase the emphasis on social science factors in targeting educational methods to increase conservation adoption and effectiveness

Procedures and Activities

Objective 1 Establish and strengthen relationships that can serve the missions of multiple organizations addressing nutrient management and environmental quality.

Over the past five years SERA-46 has diligently worked to strengthen and enhance relationships among LGU faculty and staff, the HTF and its Coordinating Committee, and other organizations with similar interests in addressing nutrient loss reductions. As previously stated, SERA-46 has developed a strong relationship with the HTF and its Coordinating Committee by participating in its spring and fall meetings and monthly conference calls. This mutually beneficial information exchange has provided the HTF an opportunity to tap into LGU resources that can reach additional stakeholders; increased collaboration among some state agencies and LGUs; and led to funding opportunities for SERA-46 work. SERA-46 will continue working alongside the HTF and its Coordinating Committee to share relevant information and resources; work toward achievement of established Shared Priorities; and streamline access to LGU expertise within the MARB.

North Central Region states have an effective mechanism in place for accessing water issues and experts through the North Central Region Water Network and SERA-46 will look to this model to strengthen relationships among LGUs in the North Central and Southern Regions. In addition, SERA-46 will maintain relationships with other relevant multistate committees (e.g. SERA-17, NCERA-217, and NC-1190) to engage them deliverables for Shared Priorities as appropriate.

SERA-46 has hosted two USEPA-funded basin-wide summits at which farmers, agriculture advisers, watershed practitioners, and other watershed professionals gathered to exchange information and identify needs to further farmer-led watershed efforts. From these summits a MARB Watershed Leadership Network has been developed to enhance information exchange and create synergy among members to further farmer-led watershed leadership. SERA-46 will continue to use peer exchange workshops to improve farmer knowledge and increase capacity for watershed leadership among the agricultural community.

Another mechanism for information exchange among LGU personnel will be a research and extension symposium with colleagues in the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP). Utilizing member relationships with colleagues working in the CBP SERA-46 hopes to share lessons learned and gain insights from a well-established federal watershed protection program that can be applied to the MARB. SERA-46 and CBP partners will explore the possibility of NIFA’s Food and Agriculture Science Enhancement (FASE) grant program to support this activity.

SERA-46 will explore opportunities for collaboration toward HTF goals with the agriculture and food industry. The 2019 Great Lakes to Gulf Watershed Leadership Summit hosted by SERA-46 engaged the shrimp industry and a local chef. By engaging farmers, fishers, restaurateurs, and others involved in the food supply chain in water quality conversations SERA-46 can build relationships and facilitate the development of creative solutions to addressing nutrient losses. Activities may include listening sessions, farm field days, and watershed tours. SERA-46 members will explore multi-media outlets for sharing information and engaging new partners.

By Spring 2020 SERA-46 will have developed at least one video featuring the MARB Watershed Leadership Network to share with HTF.
By Spring 2020 SERA-46 will have reaffirmed or established new liaisons between SERA-46 and at least 3 other multistate committees addressing SERA-46 and HTF Shared Priorities
By Spring 2021 SERA-46 will have developed and implemented a strategy for collaboration with the agriculture and food industry, including farmers, fishers, and restaurateurs.
By Fall 2022 SERA-46 will have collaborated with CBP colleagues to exchange information and approaches to reducing nutrient losses to the environment.

Objective 2 Expand the knowledge base through the discovery of new tools and practices as well as the continual validation of recommended practices.

Land Grant University faculty are best suited to provide credible discovery and applied science to the issue of gulf hypoxia for the Ohio/Mississippi river basin. Such faculty are well positioned to engage with HTF members to best understand scenarios and concerns in each state and then to connect to each state’s research programs in determining potential solutions. While LGU faculty often work primarily in individual states, there are several multi-state projects that exist that would benefit from regional research coordination as demonstrated by this SERA.

Research on hypoxia has been comprehensive regarding basic mechanisms and principles. While that research will continue, essential research is needed for continual validation of existing practices (e.g., nutrient management, edge-of-field tile drainage practices) as well as game-changing practices for the next 100 years of agriculture (e.g., drainage water recycling/tail-water recovery). While most research efforts are led by biological, ecological, and physical scientists, there is a strong need to acknowledge and expect input from economists, sociologists, and policy analysts that integrate the various scientists’ efforts with the goal of optimizing agronomic, economic, and environmental impacts. There is a critical research gap involving the development, calibration, and applied testing of monitoring tools that could significantly inform not only the design and management of recommended practices but also the tracking and reporting of said practices for HTF efforts. Examples in this area include items such as sensors, imaging, GPS, GIS, etc. Integration of these research components will form a strong foundation for educational programs and state/federal regulations that may need to be considered to address the hypoxia issue.

The LGU research activities will be addressed via a strategic process. Initially, all twelve states worked through an inventory process to best identify which states were doing what research on topics related to gulf hypoxia. This provided a strong starting point assessment of the gaps and overlap occurring among states. Moving forward, this process will be revisited to assess new gaps and new or changed capacity to address those gaps across all SERA 46 LGUs. Gap assessment along with formal dialogue with HTF members will provide direction for immediate and long-term research priorities.

Through a formal SERA meeting process along with the proposed interaction with the HTF, there should be a greater understanding of tools and technologies that are being tested/refined in one state that other states may want to validate for their own use. As applied research goes through this validation process, the application of that research often is expanded to benefit more areas and circumstances.

Some potential research-related activities of this SERA will include:
o Inventory other NIMSS multistate committees that are making contributions to SERA 46’s Goal (“Promote effective implementation of science-based approaches to nutrient management/ conservation that reduces nutrient losses to the environment.” ) and communicate with those committees about workplans, products, and the potential for increasing HTF access to their products.
o Develop and publish regional (basin-wide) white papers and synthesis documents on hypoxia-related research issues and topics as determined by the SERA committee with input from HTF/CC.
o Provide scientific expertise and counsel on hypoxia science-related topics for input into HTF deliverables, such as the 2008 Action Plan and the subsequent EPA directive.
o Design directed research proposals/projects that will develop state/region-appropriate nutrient management practices, applied individually and collectively, and quantify performance, efficacy, costs, and life-span of those practices to support state science assessments.
o Develop new (and improve existing) tools to guide and inform targeted conservation program development, planning and assessment. Suites of proposed tools should address economic costs, benefits, incentives and risks that guide conservation implementation
o Aid HTF member agencies with research and technical resources to design, deliver, and interpret monitoring programs to assess various conservation effects of practices applied individually and collectively.

By spring 2020, SERA-46 will have met with HTF/CC members for hearing needs and issues as well as sharing the proposed goals and activities
By fall 2020, SERA-46 will have identified key areas of needed emphasis based on SERA/HTF engagement and state summaries of research efforts.
By spring 2021, SERA-46 will have produced a summary paper and begun some multistate research/validation efforts
By spring 2022, SERA-46 will have completed at least one high priority activity.

Objective 3 Strengthen the delivery of educational programming designed to increase the implementation and effectiveness of nutrient management strategies for agricultural and non-agricultural audiences.

The strength of this SERA is its focus on applied research and outreach toward specific environmental management challenges: efficient management of nitrogen and phosphorus at local, state, and Mississippi Basin scales. There is a substantial body of research available to be applied in agricultural operations and in watershed management. Extension professionals continue to be a critical component for moving science-based information from universities to rural areas and serve an important role working with agriculture and community leaders to facilitate wider adoption of practices that improve nutrient use efficiency.

In pursuit of this objective, the SERA will develop and refine extension programs in the following areas:
Engage farmers in producer-led watershed projects and on-farm research and demonstration efforts. Producers are expert problem-solvers and are one of the decision-making stakeholders in agricultural nutrient management. Extension can work with partners to facilitate farmer leadership in on-farm and watershed management in the Mississippi River Basin and associated states.
Explore and identify social science research needs opportunities to improve conservation delivery, adoption, and effectiveness, i.e. conduct research on collaborative watershed management programs to identify best practices that can be modeled elsewhere.
Exchange information about other model programs for working with farmers to improve conservation practices and nutrient use efficiency, such as Mississippi State University’s REACH program. There are many existing successful outreach programs that are ripe for expansion to other Mississippi River Basin states. This activity would identify model programs and work to adapt and expand them.
Increase use of appropriate nutrient decision support tools and nutrient management principles for better decision-making. Farmers and farm advisors are faced with the challenges of changing research, technology, weather patterns, and socio-political contexts. The SERA is well positioned to increase the availability and use of decision support tools to help farmers with complex nutrient management decisions.
? Increase the ability of local watershed managers and volunteers to develop and implement effective watershed plans. University extension programs nationwide have a substantial number of high-quality watershed leadership programs. These programs train local leaders from all backgrounds in the science and art of watershed planning and management. They are perfect bridges for land-grant research in watershed management to reach users, and for users to express their needs for additional research. The SERA can foster collaboration among existing watershed leadership programs and work to increase access to these programs across participating states. Water resource management is inherently local. Support for local watershed management is critical if Mississippi River Basin and Gulf of Mexico nutrient reduction goals are to be achieved.
Explore the potential to convene land-grant livestock and crop specialists and educators to develop strategies for incorporating nutrient use efficiency research and management information into educational programs. Land-grant livestock and crop specialists and educators are trusted sources of information for farmers and farm advisors. However, many of our specialists focus strongly on production with only limited mention of the negative downstream impacts that some agricultural practices can have. The SERA could work with Extension Agriculture and Natural Resource Program Leaders, Experiment Station Directors, and others to convene a meeting of livestock and crop specialists to discuss how nutrient use efficiency, water management, and other practices can be incorporated into livestock and crop specialist extension programming and research. The purpose of this meeting would be to catalyze more extension engagement in meeting Mississippi River Basin and Gulf of Mexico nutrient reduction goals while maintaining producer goals to make the best management decisions.

By spring 2020, SERA-46 will have reported to the HTF on farmer-led watershed activities and demonstration efforts throughout the MARB
By fall 2020, SERA-46 will have identified and expanded information of model programs working with farmers to at least one state.
By spring 2021, SERA-46 will have developed an online platform for communicating farmer-led watershed activities, decision support tools, and information related to conservation effectiveness- aggregating farmer resources
By spring 2022, SERA-46 will have identified key training needs for agriculture and natural resource professionals, advisors, and extension agents that support HTF goals and on-the-ground work toward reducing nutrient loading

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Objective 1 Comments: ● Increase knowledge base among LGU and HTF/CC members on effective implementation of science-based approaches that reduce nutrient losses to the environment. ● Increased understanding of nutrient reduction strategies that can be employed across states. ● Increased collaboration among LGUs and HTF member agencies, as well as other public and private stakeholders. ● Increased sharing of nutrient reduction strategies across states. ● Strengthened relationships and communication between LGUs and HTF/CC members. ● Development of innovative solutions to nutrient losses, including working involvement of stakeholders in implementing those solutions. ● Better articulation and communication of current science, and science-based approaches, that reduce nutrient losses to the environment, including areas of broad agreement and those with diverse points of view. ● A shift in narrative and problem framing from traditional unilateral positions to collaborative thought-leading dialogue around reducing nutrient losses for societal and environmental benefits.
  • Objective 2 Comments: ● An increased understanding and comprehension of scientific issues by the HTF/CC through the engagement and interaction with the SERA committee. ● A broader awareness and understanding of research efforts for all SERA/HTF/CC members across the 12 states. ● An increase in research protocol sharing among faculty in the Mississippi basin states. ● Greater collaboration of researchers across state borders as indicated by research publications, technology applications, symposium, etc. ● Advances in science-based public policy due to more robust monitoring and evaluation research. ● More consistent and improved understanding of best management practices (BMPs) effectiveness, modeling tools, and protocols due to multi-state research collaborations.
  • Objective 3 Comments: ● Through the forums described above, LGUs will advance science-based, solution-oriented conversations addressing point and nonpoint sources of N and P, and continue dialogue with the agricultural community at state and national levels to support the development and implementation of state nutrient strategies. ● Improve capacity for engaging and educating agribusinesses, farmers, and urban and urbanizing communities about water quality and the state’s nutrient strategy. ● Agricultural stakeholders will be better equipped to participate in state nutrient strategies as business leaders and citizen stewards of soil and water resources. ● Participating agencies will have a greater understanding of the economic and logistical challenges in agricultural nutrient management as well as potential solutions to those challenges. ● Effective implementation of science-based approaches to nutrient management that reduces nutrient losses to the environment.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Outcomes from the SERA will be assimilated into LGU extension publications, programs, and activities to be distributed through service frameworks, communicated through state and regional workshops, field days and farm tours, and demonstrated through establishment of on-farm research-demonstration sites, such as Arkansas’s Discovery Farms and Mississippi REACH program. The SERA will consider digital formats for outreach throughout its activities as well as traditional field days and fact sheets.  For additional education plans see Objective 3 activities above


The core SERA project committee will be comprised of at least one research oriented and one extension-oriented faculty from each of the 12 HTF Cooperative Agreement signatory LGU universities.  Additional project participants may include other faculty from those and other universities, federal and state agency personnel, and representative from public/private stakeholder groups.  The primary SERA project governance will follow the standard model with a chair, chair-elect, and a secretary, with each serving one-year terms in each role, for a total term of 3 years.  The SERA may also establish ad hoc groups to develop and/or implement specific activities pursuant to the project’s objectives.  

At the HTF’s request, in addition to the above governance structure, the SERA project committee will have one liaison appointed by the HTF to communicate HTF needs and priorities.  Also, each HTF member state agency will be encouraged to appoint a liaison to engage relevant state agencies with the SERA.  HTF will invite at least one representative from the SERA to participate in monthly Coordinating Committee webinars and conference calls.  HTF will also invite the SERA to send a representative annually to one of their meetings (spring or fall) to report on SERA activities

Literature Cited

Alexander Richard B, Richard A Smith, Gregory E Schwarz, Elizabeth W Boyer, Jacqueline V Nolan, and John W Brakebill. 2008. Differences in Phosphorus and Nitrogen Delivery to the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River Basin. 2008. Environ. Sci. Technol. 42:822–830.

Aulenbach, B.T., Buxton, H.T., Battaglin, W.A., and Coupe, R.H., 2007, Streamflow and nutrient fluxes of the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin and sub-basins for the period of record through 2005: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007-1080.

Goolsby, Donald A. and William A. Battaglin. 2001. Long-term changes in concentrations and flux of nitrogen in the Mississippi River Basin, USA. Hydrological Processes 15(7):1209–1226,

Hey, D.L., and Philippi, N.S. 1995. Flood reduction through wetland restoration: The Upper Mississippi River Basin as a case history. Restor. Ecol., 3, 4–17.

Rabalais, N.N and R.E. Turner. 2017. Press Release, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, August 2, 2017. (Accessed 10/15/18).


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

LSU Agricultural Center, Mississippi State University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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