Conservation Now

March 14, 2009 08:40 AM

Wetlands Filter Out Nutrients

Wetlands, funded through programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, are expected to be a key tool in
reducing the amount of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) escaping from farm fields through tile drainage water. Eventually, the nutrients make their way into the Gulf of Mexico, where they create algae blooms that deplete the water of oxygen, destroying marine habitat.

But how many acres of wetlands might be needed? Part of the answer will come from the Franklin Demonstration Farm, near Lexington, Ill., where researchers are running water from a tile system through constructed wetlands before it reaches the Mackinaw River.

After two years, research suggests a wetland/cropland ratio of 3% can remove 18% of the N and 43% of the P. A ratio of 6% wetlands removed 34% of the N and 55% of the P. With 9% of the area in wetlands, 43% of the N and 56% of the P were removed.

Not all the wetlands required taking land out of production, notes Nature Conservancy ( aquatic ecologist Maria Lemke. "Some of them were constructed in uncropped areas or cropland that was prone to flooding," she says.

Within a year, researchers hope to have enough data to generate ratios that could be applied to other farms.

Besides the Conservancy, partners include the University of Illinois, the McLean County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Franklin family of Lexington, Ill. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources funded the initial project, and a gift from Monsanto Company will fund three more years of water monitoring.

On the Franklin farm, new tile systems were installed for research purposes. But that won't be necessary for every application, Lemke says. "On most farms, we can reroute the existing tile system's outlet through the wetland."

Pheasants Forever Will Preserve a Kansas Farm

"When you have literally sweated, bled and cried over a place, you don't want to see it broken up," says Wallace Weber of Dorrance, Kan.

So he is donating 1,700 acres to Pheasants Forever (, with the agreement that the land will be managed forever for sustainable agriculture and wildlife habitat.

It is the largest land donation to date for the national conservation organization. The land will be transferred to Pheasants Forever during a period of years, beginning with 320 acres transferred in December 2008.

Weber grew up on part of the land, helping his family produce crops and livestock and hunting, fishing and trapping in his spare time. His father won conservation awards for environmentally friendly farming practices. Weber added to the original acreage and farmed the land—either personally or with custom operators—in addition to his careers as a physician and as a flight surgeon in the active Army and Army Reserve.

"I agonized for years over what to do with the property," Weber says. Pheasants Forever will use the land to show how farming and wildlife conservation can go hand in hand, through conservation tours and habitat field days illustrating best management practices.

Eventually, the property will be opened to regulated hunting, fishing and trapping. "Hunting, fishing and trapping are part of our heritage and should be available to everyone," Weber says.

For information about the donation program, e-mail David Bue at

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