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USDA ARS Hydrology at the Cranberry Station

The USDA-ARS (Agricultural Research Service) Hydrology program develops research that assists cranberry growers in land use management that protects and enhances the quality of water resources in southeastern Massachusetts. Our program combines basic and applied research to advance management practices that balance sustaining production and protecting the environment, helping the cranberry industry to adapt to emerging water resource issues and regulatory demands. We conduct plot, field and watershed studies to understand processes that link agriculture to water resources and to develop appropriate remedial measures. Despite its regional emphasis, our research addresses issues that transcend regional boundaries and has implications to broad swaths of U.S. agriculture.

The majority of our research is conducted within the Buzzard’s Bay watershed, where nutrient loadings from anthropogenic sources have accelerated eutrophication in the Bay and its tributaries alike. While eutrophication, the biological enrichment of a water body, is a natural process, it can be dramatically accelerated by point and non-point source nutrient pollution. Economically viable cranberry production requires additions of nitrogen and phosphorus, making cranberry farms likely sources of these nutrients to surface water. While cranberry agriculture is far from the only source of nutrients in the Buzzards Bay watershed (septic systems have also been implicated), its association with wetland areas and strong tie to water resources makes it one of the most prominent and visible sources. Growers are eager for water and nutrient management research that will help to ensure a resilient system of cranberry production that can nimbly respond to environmental and regulatory issues.  To this end, our research is formed around two objectives:

  1. Describe and quantify processes controlling the export of nitrogen and phosphorus from cranberry farms to surface water and groundwater
  2. Develop management practices that improve water use efficiency and reduce environmental impacts of agriculturally derived nitrogen and phosphorus

Research results has lead to several key findings with respect to water and nutrient management of cranberry farms:

  • Two inches per year of localized recharge to the regional groundwater aquifer results from flooding of cranberry farms (Kennedy 2015)
  • Environmental significance of subsurface pools of nitrogen in cranberry beds and the ability to focus on moments of disproportionate nitrogen transfer to most efficiently curtail floodwater nitrogen losses (i.e., 58% of N export occurred in only 22% of floodwater discharge) (Kennedy et al. 2015a)
  • Phosphorus susceptible to off-site transport can be conceptualized as dissolved phosphorus in the shallow subsurface and particulate phosphorus derived from ditch sediments (Kennedy et al. 2015b)

Select Publications

Kennedy, C. D., P. Jeranyama, N. Alverson. Agricultural water requirements for commercial production of cranberries, submitted.

Kennedy, C. D. 2015. Hydrologic and nutrient response of groundwater to flooding of cranberry farms  in southeastern Massachusetts, USA. Journal of Hydrology 525:441-449.

Kennedy, C. D., Buda, A. R., Kleinman, P. J. A. and DeMoranille, C. J. 2015a. Chemical and isotopic tracers illustrate pathways of nitrogen loss in a cranberry bed. Journal of Environmental Quality 44:1-7.

Kennedy, C. D., Kleinman, P. J. A. and DeMoranille, C. J. 2015b. Chemical and isotopic tracers illustrate pathways of nitrogen loss in a cranberry bed. Journal of Environmental Quality 44:1-7.