If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then a report generated by SoilCalculator contains the equivalent of an encyclopedia of information for farmers and agronomists.
Agren’s SoilCalculator tool calculates soil erosion on 9×9 meter grids. SoilCalculator utilizes the computational engine of the RUSLE2 erosion model and combines it with newly developed methods to define slope length and steepness. Using LiDAR to measure the slope length and steepness, SoilCalculator calculates soil erosion about 8,000 times in a 160 acre field and generates an image that depicts the distribution of sheet and rill erosion across a field, similar to a yield map.
SoilCalculator creates a simple and user-friendly interface for RUSLE2. No previous GIS experience is required. Planners are able to plug in various crop rotation schedules and conservation practices and view the resulting erosion predictions, based on the management options selected. The tool operates in a web-based environment which means there is no software or updates for the user to install.
The top five advantages of SoilCalculator:
#5: Ease of use
SoilCalculator creates a simple and user-friendly GIS interface. There are no databases to download or update. Everything is contained within the online program.
Due to the spatial scale and nature of inputs, the results for SoilCalculator are significantly more accurate than the results produced by a typical RUSLE2 run. The RUSLE2 model is usually run on a critical dominant soil within the field and the user often uses “book values” for slope steepness and slope length. SoilCalculator does not use book values for soil calculations. It measures the slope length and steepness from accurate elevation data for each 9×9 meter raster. The slope data for that cell is combined with several other spatial inputs assigned to that raster; for example, the soil erodibility factor.
#3: Utility of outputs
The outputs of SoilCalculator provide extremely useful information for other models since the program exists on a GIS platform. For example, Agren is currently collaborating with Dr. Seth Dabney, USDA-ARS to develop an add-on that will calculate ephemeral erosion on a field level. Future add-ons include raster-based calculations of the soil conditioning index, a runoff curve number calculator, and an upgrade to the phosphorus index.
#2: Graphical outputs
Never before have farmers or resource professionals been able to view the outputs of RUSLE2 in a visual manner. Similar to looking at a yield map, this report shows a geographic distribution of high and low areas of soil erosion of the current system and up to three alternatives. This is a necessity for application of precision conservation.
#1: Assists in decision making
With the raster output of SoilCalculator, we can now begin to analyze the impact of soil erosion and deposition on agronomic variables such as fertility, and perhaps even begin to understand the complex relationship of erosion and yield. Soil erosion is one more piece of data that can help agronomists write prescriptions for variable-rate fertilizer and seeding. Imagine being able to market conservation as a way to improve yields!
For precision conservation to be practical and effective, farmers and agronomist must have tools that can pinpoint conservation needs. SoilCalculator is a substantial scientific improvement over the current RUSLE2. Conservation practitioners will be able to quickly and easily target appropriate management practices to landscape positions that contribute the most significant sediment loads and evaluate which practice alternatives provide the most environmental benefit.