Indian Creek Watershed Project collaborators reviewed last growing season’s efforts in nutrient use efficiency and improving water quality at a meeting in Fairbury, Ill. Panelists (from left) Dan Froelich, Danny Harms and Chad Watts also gave their insights into the project during the meeting.
Indian Creek Watershed Project collaborators reviewed last growing season’s efforts in nutrient use efficiency and improving water quality at a meeting in Fairbury, Ill. Panelists (from left) Dan Froelich, Danny Harms and Chad Watts also gave their insights into the project during the meeting.
FAIRBURY, Ill. — Indian Creek Watershed Project partners reviewed last year’s successes and plans for the upcoming growing season at a recent meeting.

The collaborative effort led by farmers within the watershed demonstrates and tests conservation practices to reduce nutrient losses.

“The Indian Creek project fits in nicely with this nutrient-reduction strategy,” said Chad Watts, Conservation Technology Information Center project director.

“We are looking to reduce nutrients in Indian Creek by increasing nutrient-use efficiency and proving that we can still farm, we can still get high yields. There are technologies and practices out there that will help us to achieve these goals.”

Nutrient loss into waterways has been a major concern. The Environmental Protection Agency has not issued mandates for the Midwest, and the Indian Creek effort is voluntary and proactive.

“We recognize that the Vermillion River has an occasional problem with nitrates, and it’s an opportunity for us to be a partner in helping to reduce those nutrients in the Vermillion by sending a cleaner water product out of Indian Creek because of the work we’re doing on the land,” Watts said.

The Four Rs

The initiative centers on the four Rs — right source, right rate, right time and right place — of nutrient management.

“The four Rs is not just a word. Those are things that we’re actually putting into practice on the land,” Watts said.

The next step in the process is tying water quality gains to conservation practices on the farms.

“That’s really important for us because it’s a way that agriculture can be the good guy,” Watts said.

“Agriculture gets a lot of blame for nutrients, and we all know that’s not the entire story, but it’s part of the story and we have to take that kind of recognition and understand that we do have a role to play in agriculture and we can do some things that can make a difference and be a partner in trying to protect water quality,” he said.

Project partners providing funding and technical assistance include the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. They are joined by retailers and community members.

“It’s an opportunity for us to work together as a community to make a difference in water quality,” Watts said.

Many community members were actively involved in assisting with last summer’s successful project tour that drew visitors from across the nation.

“It’s the community trying to come together over the issue of water and being proud of the fact that we’re being proactive and voluntary and we’re trying to prove to the world that central Illinois agriculture is an important player in protecting water quality,” Watts said.

Farmers’ Experiences

Farmers involved in the project told of their previous efforts and future plans during a panel discussion.

Danny Harms, who farms with his father and uncle south of Fairbury, has conducted nitrogen strip trials on their farm the past three years as part of the project.

“The split-applied nitrogen has always been the top yielder in the trials. The one-pass weed and feed pre-plant in the spring has always been the lowest,” he said. “Using stabilizers with that helps a little bit, but was still wasn’t as good as the split-applied.”

Harms has seen success with ESN, a polymer-coated nitrogen fertilizer with controlled-release technology.

“You can really tell when the corn gets to the V5 stage. We had that right next to the corn that was going to be completely side-dressed and it was solid green all the way through the field and the corn that was waiting on the nitrogen was yellow and a lot shorter,” he said.

“The problem we found with the ESN was obviously costs, it’s a little bit higher, and logistically it’s hard for us to get the ground covered like we need to in the spring. “

Harms plans to test the stabilizers Instinct and Factor this year after seeing results of five years of field testing by Beck’s Hybrids and also will use nitrogen sealers on his applicator for side-dressing to reduce nitrogen loss.

Mike Trainor has conducted a tile water study on his farmland near Wing the past two years and now is looking at cover crops on 160 acres that had been continuous corn for the past six to seven years.

He planted wheat on 40 acres and will double-crop with soybeans. Various cover crops will be used and monitored over the remaining acres for four years to study soil health, economics, corn and soybean yields and spring control options.

“With the technology we have today, we have to take more looks at our (variable rate) applications and change fundamentally the way we think about things,” said Dan Froelich, Brandt Consolidated northern region technical agronomist and manager of Brandt’s Lexington Research Farm.

He is conducting field research on variable rate applications.

“We have to get smart about how and where we apply it. Your return on investment is getting tighter and tighter,” he said.

Froelich added farmers attending meetings similar to the Indian Creek gathering may pick up some ideas about nutrient management and tell their retailers they would like to look at implementation.

“If (the retailer) is not educated, or if he’s worried it’s going to cost money, he’s going to talk you out of that idea in a heartbeat and many times does. But if you really hear something at these meetings and you believe you want to try it, be firm and say we have to do this,” he said.