Conservation Now

December 12, 2008 06:00 PM
Win/Win Nutrient Removal
Organizers of a new study in Minnesota hope to prove nutrients and sediment can be removed from tile water and surface runoff without taking land out of production or affecting drainage of cropland. The project is being conducted on two sites, one that is 78 acres and one 26 acres.

Surface runoff and water from tile lines enter a shallow infiltration pond, where water-loving plants remove some of the nutrients and sediment settles. From there, the water flows through a bioreactor—a trench lined with wood chips, where bacteria converts nitrogen into harmless nitrogen gas and a small amount of nitrous oxide. Finally, it exits into a drainage ditch.

"This appears to be the first time infiltration ponds and bioreactors have been used together,” says Rich Biske of the Nature Conservancy. "We will compare the results with that of a bioreactor used alone, located a half mile away.”

Water exiting the bioreactor will be monitored for nitrogen and phosphorus content for at least three years. An important aspect of the project is that, at each site, researchers found room for the infiltration pond and bioreactor without taking farmland out of production.

Partners in the project include two landowners and their tenants, the Mower County, Minn., Soil and Water Conservation District, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the University of Minnesota's Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton, Minn., and Monsanto Company.
New Vetch Varieties for Northern Areas
Hairy vetch is popular as a winter cover because it can reduce weed competition, improve soil tilth and provide nitrogen for the following crop. It is especially appealing to no-till and organic producers. But its usefulness has typically been limited for growers who farm in northern latitudes.

The problem is that vetch is most productive if it is allowed to grow until flowering, before being tilled, rolled or killed with a herbicide in the spring. In organic systems, if vetch is killed before flowering, it may regrow and compete with the following crop. In any system, waiting for vetch to flower delays planting of the summer crop.
Two new early flowering
hairy vetch varieties were developed by USDA–ARS geneticist Thomas Devine (left, shown with technician H. David Clark).

Two new varieties developed by Thomas Devine, a plant geneticist and breeder with the USDA–Agricultural Research Service's Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., may solve that problem. Purple Bounty flowers two weeks earlier than common hairy vetch varieties; Purple Prosperity flowers one week earlier.

Unlike previous early flowering varieties, these two varieties are winter-hardy enough to withstand northern growing conditions at least as far north as New York and southern Minnesota.

The varieties have been licensed to four seed companies for increase and sale. They are: Albert Lea Seed, Albert Lea, Minn., (800) 352-5247; Allied Seed, Nampa, Idaho, (888) 252-7573; King's AgriSeeds, Ronks, Pa., (866) 687-6224; and Ted's Organic Grains, DeKalb, Ill., (815) 827-3382. Expect seed supplies to be very limited in 2009, becoming more available by fall 2010.
No-Till Conference Slated for Indianapolis
The National No-Tillage Conference, Jan. 14 to 17 in Indianapolis, Ind., will feature 46 no-till farmers, consultants, agronomists and researchers speaking in general sessions and "no-till classrooms.” There also will be 60 round-table sessions in which attendees will gather with a moderator to discuss various aspects of no-till farming.

The conference is sponsored by No-Till Farmer magazine. For more information, go to, scroll down and click on the conference link, or call (866) 839-8455.

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