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The University of Tennessee | Institute of Agriculture

Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics

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Beaver Creek Study

The Beaver Creek watershed drains about 95,000 acres in Fayette, Haywood, Shelby and Tipton counties. Two-thirds is crop land: cotton, soybeans, small grains and corn are the major crops.

Soils in the watershed are very productive but also very erosive; one landowner describes the soils as "...melting like sugar and running like water." EPA identifies soil erosion as one of the biggest ways agriculture may affect water quality. Erosion is a concern because it contributes sediment to surface water and also because eroding soil particles may carry pesticides and fertilizers.

Graphic of Beaver Creek WatershedIn response to concerns of farm families in the watershed, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the US Geological Survey launched an extensive investigation in 1989 on the effects of agricultural practices on water quality and the extent to which best management practices (BMPs) may reduce these impacts. In 1991, Beaver Creek was selected as a Hydrologic Unit Area (HUA) project as part of the US Department of Agriculture's national water quality initiative. The HUA project focused on controlling erosion and associated movement of pesticides and nutrients.

The results of all the efforts, in a nutshell, was to show that BMPs work. Coordinated USDA programs of education, technical assistance and cost-share financing helped many farm families to voluntarily adopt BMPs. Monitoring showed significant reductions in sediment, pesticides and nutrients in the water coming off fields using no-till and other BMPs.

Beaver Creek has gained national attention for its success and the implications of the results. Documents linked to this page discuss Beaver Creek, its implications and BMPs. The final report is a good place to start. Support for this outreach effort comes in part from Syngenta, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.