FAIRBURY, Ill. — Indian Creek Watershed Project partners
reviewed last year’s successes and plans for the upcoming growing season at a
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
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
“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
“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 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
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
“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.