Earlier this month we’ve established that nutrient runoff in Illinois is a complicated thing and that we’ve got Illinois Director of Agriculture Bob Flider on our side.  As we dive further into water quality month, let’s explore one problem in central Illinois and efforts on behalf of Illinois farmers to correct it.

The Council on Best Management Practices (CBMP), funded by IL Corn and other commodity groups and agri-businesses, realized early on that the drought of 2012 was going to be bad news for water quality.  It was almost a perfect storm – pun intended.

There was no rain during the 2012 growing season, which left the corn growing significantly less than anticipated in early 2012 and using significantly less nitrogen than farmers applied.  That left a bunch of extra nitrogen sitting in the soil not being used by any plants.  Then, heavy rains hit Illinois in early 2013 delaying planting season until much later than usual.  All that extra rain flushed the extra nitrogen away from the fields and into the drinking water.

And actually, though we anticipated a big problem the problem was smaller than we thought.  Remember this?  There wasn’t a larger problem in the Gulf of Mexico.

But there was one community significantly affected.  Springfield, IL was dealing with higher than usual nitrates in their water and they had no water treatment system available to deal with it.  The EPA standard is 10 parts per billion and the water in Lake Springfield got dangerously close.  Springfield’s problems were greater than other central Illinois communities because of the soil types in that area and their water drainage capacity.

Enter N Watch.  CBMP realized that this would be an issue so they alerted the city of Springfield early on.  They then commenced N Watch to measure the nitrogen left in fields draining into Lake Springfield and determine a course of action to stop the runoff.

This year, N Watch has over 5000 soil samples over 300 different field sites.  They are monitoring different practices, different soil types, and different nitrogen application timings to figure out how nitrogen moves throughout the soils and hopefully prevent this from happening again.

Find out how Illinois farmers are using the data from N Watch to launch another proactive solution next week … cover crops!

phil thorntonPhil Thornton
ICGA/ICMB Value Enhanced Project Director