Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrate Loss from Drained Lands


Modern crop production in many parts of the North Central Region would not be possible without artificial subsurface drainage. However, drainage is associated with an increase in nitrate loads to streams, rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico, where it contributes to the low oxygen or hypoxic zone.

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.The economic and environmental impacts of this ‘dead’ zone is one of the United States’ largest national water quality concerns, making reducing nitrate loads from drained land of great interest to a large number of stakeholders. The loss of nitrogen for crop production also results in significant economic loss for farmers.

Keeping excess nitrogen on the land and out of the water will take a multi-faceted approach.A team of Extension professionals and industry scientists came together to ensure educators, Extension professionals, agriculture leaders, and farmers 1) understand the relationship between nitrate runoff and the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone and 2) have researched-based information on the different ways to address this issue.


The goal of the Ten Ways project was to develop a free, open, up-to-date, multi-state outreach product with clear, informative education materials on the critical issues associated with agriculture drainage. The Ten Ways team is dedicated to providing education on nitrate loss in the region that works for the different land and water management situations faced by users.

Addressing the Challenge

The “ten” in the Ten Ways educational materials addresses the many ways nitrate can be reduced across the region in varying conditions.

The Ten Ways team drew from a diverse collection of science-based, empirical research and relied on the expertise of collaborators and researchers across the region who focus on climate science, agronomy, agricultural engineering, and other disciplines to create comprehensive education materials that are useful for a variety of different situations and needs.

By collaborating and bringing together multiple disciplines, the Ten Ways team was able to develop a set of practices that pertain to the diversity of different cropping systems across the region.

Program Outcomes and Impacts

To reach a broad range of audiences, the Ten Ways team created a number of products and online materials, which together make-up the Ten Ways Outreach Kit. The kit is available for download and use through the North Central Region Water Network website, the Illinois Drainage Research and Outreach Program (I-DROP) website, and other Ten Way team partner sites.

Ten Ways Outreach Kit

Download the Ten Ways Outreach Kit and make sure you have everything you need to learn and discuss the different strategies to reduce nitrate. The kit includes the full Ten Ways Booklet, the Ten Ways Summary Factsheet, a Ten Ways PowerPoint suite, and a Ten Ways walk-through guide.

To order printed copies of the booklet or factsheet email Laura Christianson at LEChris@Illinois.edu. Visit the Illinois Drainage and Research and Outreach website for additional information.

Access the  project factsheet here.


Laura Christianson
Crop Sciences, University of Illinois

Jane Frankenberger
Agricultural and Biological Engineering,  Purdue University

Chris Hay
Iowa Soybean Association

Matt Helmers

Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Iowa State University


Gary Sands
Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, University of Minnesota