better water through farming.

December 15, 2020

courtesy Rodale Institute

Stroud Water Research Center (Stroud Center) and Rodale Institute are conducting a six-year project to compare the influence of farming practices on soil health, crop yield, and water quality at our Stroud Preserve in West Chester, Chester County. The study, now in its final year, compares four methods of farming: conventional, conservation (no-tillage plus cover crops), organic tilling, and organic no-tillage.

“Our hypothesis is that improved agricultural practices will produce better soil conditions that lead to more resilient crops, fewer contaminants delivered to surface water, and improved infiltration of storm water,” said Diana Oviedo-Vargas, Ph.D., who leads the biogeochemistry group at Stroud Center. “We believe this will result in healthier streams and cleaner water.”

“This project represents the first of its kind to link farming practices and soil health directly to water quality,” said Jinjun Kan, Ph.D., who leads the research project and microbiology group at Stroud Center. “Converting the fields from conventional to conservation or organic practices is relatively straightforward, but it may take some time to see the benefits, especially for water quality and improved rainwater infiltration.”

The multi-year study at Stroud Preserve compares four methods of farming.

Scientists from both Stroud Center and Rodale are measuring changes over time in crop yields; soil quality; nutrient cycling; infiltration; surface water and nutrient runoff; and filtration, nitrogen, and pesticide levels in the fields and the stream near them.

Stroud Preserve’s namesake, Dr. Morris Stroud, stipulated in his will that his farm be available as a long-term study site for Stroud Center, which was founded by his younger brother.

“We’re excited to have Stroud Preserve play such an important role as a real-world laboratory for soil health and water quality,” said Natural Lands’ President Oliver Bass. “The data gathered from this study, which is supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, could have a profound impact on the future of farming, as well as the future health of our watersheds.”

“The long-term goal is to improve our environment while also ensuring sustainability and profitability for farmers,” said Dr. Oviedo-Vargas. “To do this, we need to work with farmers to collect meaningful data to help them make informed decisions. If we don’t engage and involve our nation’s farmers in our work and understanding, change will be slow or may not happen at all.”

COVER CROPS are plants that are planted to cover the soil—usually for the purpose of preventing erosion—rather than for the purpose of being harvested.


TILLAGE is the agricultural preparation of soil by mechanical agitation, such as digging, stirring, and overturning. Tillage has several negative effects, including soil compaction, water runoff, and the loss of nutrients in the soil.