Conservation Now

January 30, 2009 06:00 PM

Monsanto Funds Conservation Research Projects on the Mississippi River
Monsanto and four farm and environmental groups are teaming up to improve water quality in the Mississippi River using best management practices.

A $5 million contribution from Monsanto Company will kick off several research projects aimed at improving water quality in the Mississippi River. The studies involve four other partners: the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), the Nature Conservancy, Delta Wildlife and the National Audubon Society.

ISA will evaluate the effect of various best management practices (BMPs) on water quality by studying paired microwatersheds in Iowa's Boone River and Raccoon River watersheds. Delta Wildlife will install BMPs on about 1,000 sites on farms in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta region of the Lower Mississippi Valley.

The Nature Conservancy will conduct a three-year pilot conservation project in four watersheds in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The watersheds include the Root River in Minnesota, the Pecatonica River in Wisconsin, the Boone River in Iowa and the Mackinaw River in Illinois. Audubon will promote backyard BMPs to homeowners.

Although individual BMPs have been proven effective, these studies will identify how to apply them to solve problems on a larger scale. "We will use successful examples to influence future policies and incentive programs that help farmers solve larger-scale challenges of nutrient and sediment runoff,” says the Conservancy's Michael Reuter.

Drainage Systems Boost Yield, Protect Water

Strategically located wetlands and improved tile drainage systems could slash nutrient flows to the Mississippi River, create wildlife habitat and improve profits for farmers. That's the concept behind an Iowa pilot program for integrated drainage and wetland landscape systems. Supporters include the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), Iowa State University (ISU) and the Iowa Drainage District Association. They hope to mount 25 pilot projects in central and north-central Iowa.

The projects will include new main tiles capable of removing more water from fields. Improved tile drainage will reduce surface runoff, resulting in less phosphorus and sediment reaching streams (and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico), says Dean Lemke, chief of IDALS' Water Resources Bureau.

The water will exit the tile system through a constructed wetland. ISU research shows the wetlands will remove 40% to 90% of the nitrate from the tile water. The wetlands will be enrolled in Iowa's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to compensate the owners.

Farmers' yields will improve from better drainage of their fields, Lemke predicts. They'll be able to use less tillage because soil will be drier and warmer in the spring.

"The tile mains in this part of Iowa were built in the early 1900s,” Lemke says. "The old mains limit the amount of subsurface drainage from farmland because they are too small for today's intensive cropping. We think most of them will be replaced by 2050, so why not replace them with a system that will provide both agricultural and environmental benefits?”

Once the benefits are confirmed, Lemke thinks farmers will want improved drainage systems. A few agencies still have to approve the proposal, and funding must be
located. But he's confident the projects will soon become reality.

Nebraska No-Till Conference Scheduled

Cornhusker State farmers have two opportunities to attend the Nebraska No-Till Conference sponsored by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The event will be held near Mead on Feb. 10 and in Holdrege on Feb. 11. For more information on the Mead event, e-mail or call (402) 624-8030. For the Holdrege event, e-mail or call (308) 995-4222. Speakers will include no-till farmers, university specialists and industry representatives.

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