AgBufferBuilder: A geographic information system (GIS) tool for precision design and performance assessment of filter strips

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Dosskey, Mike
Neelakantan, Surendran
Mueller, Tom
Kellerman, Todd
Helmers, Matt
Rienzi, Eduardo
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Spatially nonuniform runoff reduces the water quality performance of constant-width filter strips. A geographic information system (GIS)-based tool was developed and tested that employs terrain analysis to account for spatially nonuniform runoff and produce more effective filter strip designs. The computer program, AgBufferBuilder, runs with ArcGIS versions 10.0 and 10.1 (Esri, Redlands, California) and uses digital elevation models to identify detailed spatial patterns of overland runoff to field margins. The tool then sizes filter dimensions according to those patterns using buffer area ratio relationships. The resulting design is larger along segments where more runoff flows and smaller along segments where runoff is less and delivers a constant level of trapping efficiency around the field margin for sediment and sediment-bound pollutants. The tool also can estimate trapping efficiency of existing filter strips or hypothetical configurations. In a validation test, estimates of sediment trapping efficiency using the tool's assessment function compared closely to measurements taken on large field plots in central Iowa. Using AgBufferBuilder, designs developed for a sample of fields in the midwestern United States were estimated to trap nearly double the sediment, on average, during a design storm than constant-width configurations having equivalent total filter area. AgBufferBuilder can be used to bolster environmental performance of filter strips where runoff is spatially nonuniform. The AgBufferBuilder tool is publicly available on the websites and


This article is from Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 70 (2015): 209–217, doi:10.2489/jswc.70.4.209.