Across the Mississippi River Basin, 45% reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus loads are necessary to meet national goals established to reduce the size of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone (USEPA, 2007). To address this challenge, nutrient loss reduction strategies were completed in Iowa in 2013, Minnesota in 2014, and Illinois and Indiana in 2015. The recent release of these state-based strategies in the upper Midwest has heightened the conversation around drainage nitrate loss to an unprecedented level. While tile drainage systems are essential components of agriculture in this area (Skaggs and van Schilfgaarde, 1999), we must collectively work at a scale never before realized to meet our water quality goals. This effort will require a variety of water quality practices implemented broadly across the Corn Belt landscape. No one practice will be suitable for every acre, but every acre needs at least one new practice to meet these ambitious goals.
There are a number of practices now being promoted as a part of state nutrient strategies, all of which have different N-reduction effectiveness, spatial suitability, additional benefits and impacts, and cost. Producers, crop advisors, and agri-business and drainage industry professionals are being asked to consider these practices, but there is no comprehensive multi- state source of information presented in a practical Extension-style format allowing these practices to be compared and assessed for suitability at individual sites. Consistent and thorough information is required to provide clarity about these practices to aid in on-farm decision making and informed policy and planning decisions across the region.
This project will develop a comprehensive package of information about drainage water quality-improvement practices by leveraging a near-finalized booklet focused on these practices. This nearly complete 44-pg Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest booklet presents practical information on the functionality and benefits of ten practices that reduce nitrate loads transported in tile drainage. Most specifically, the “problem” is that while significant effort has been invested to develop this booklet, it is possible that the audiences that would most benefit from improved understanding of these practices may not access this information in this format. New products supporting this booklet will increase the reach of this material, and will improve understanding of these practices across the multi-state region.
The benefit of this consistently branded and promoted package is that it will provide information for a variety of audiences. The nearly completed 10 Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest booklet will be available online and in print to be most broadly available to farmers, crop advisors, drainage and conservation professionals, and agency staff. The PowerPoint slide deck paired with the booklet are intended for Extension and other educators across the region. The online module will be accessed by crop advisors, drainage contactors, and others looking for in-depth and interactive online content about individual practices. A variation of the online module, including a learning assessment quiz, will be available for certified crop advisor continuing education credit. A summary factsheet will be available online and in print for more informal “browsing” audiences.
We will develop a comprehensive educational package that provides information on a suite of ten drainage water quality practices to a variety of audiences across the multi-state region. This educational package will include online interactive content and in print content that will leverage the in-progress 10 Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest booklet and a previously developed PowerPoint presentation. This consistently branded and widely promoted package will use a variety of media to increase understanding and encourage implementation of these water quality-improvement practices that reduce nitrate transport in agricultural drainage systems.
Assistant Professor, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois