Nestled along farm fields on the banks of Money Creek, a series of wetland projects aims to improve water quality in McLean County.
“One of the big goals for this wetland is to reduce the amount of nitrates flowing into Lake Bloomington,” says McLean County farmland owner Tim Kraft, who installed a wetland on his land in 2014.
Money Creek is the main tributary to Lake Bloomington, one of the reservoirs used as a water supply for the city of Bloomington. The constructed wetlands act as filters, removing excess nutrients that can have a negative impact on water quality if they reach a high enough level.
Nitrates are a water soluble form of Nitrogen, an essential nutrient for plant growth. When heavy rains saturate the soil, nitrates can be washed away.
Nitrates occur naturally in the absence of agriculture, but fertilizer use can contribute to increased levels. Nutrient loss can be an unintended side effect of fertilizer needed for crop production and field tile drainage that make much of Illinois’ soggy soils farmable.
“Everyone has the same goal to keep the nitrogen in the field and out of the water,” says Rick Twait, Superintendent of Water Purification for the city of Bloomington. “The export of nitrates in tile drainage water doesn’t do anybody any good.”
As part of the ‘Drinking Watersheds’ project, monitoring equipment at the inlets and outlets of each wetland collect data for researchers to analyze how well the process is working.
“We’re seeing reductions of about 50 to 60 percent,” says University of Illinois Ecological Specialist, Mike Wallace, who visits each wetland about once a week to collect data and water samples. “No matter how much nitrate is in the water, the wetlands remove about half.”
In addition to reducing nutrients in water, wetlands serve can also serve a secondary purpose.
“The big emphasis is water quality, but a great side benefit is wildlife habitat,” Kirkham says.
Jason Lay is exploring the use of cover crops on his farm in central Illinois. The green tops of tillage radishes are just starting to show in between rows of soybeans in the early fall.
Harvest went by quickly on the Lay farm this year. In fact, the crops were out in about half the time compared to a typical year thanks to suitable crop conditions, good weather and cooperative machinery.
Hear how the corn and soybean yields turned out with Jason Lay plus check out one way farmers are working to farm smarter by exploring the use of cover cropsin this week’s Farm Fresh podcast, episode 11.18.15.
Tune in every Wednesday at 12:45 to hear the Farm to Table segment on WJBC radio.