URBANA, Ill. — Farms are different, fields are not alike and soils vary within fields. So how do farmers decide what nutrient loss reduction practice best fits their situation?

A free new booklet provided by the University of Illinois Extension hopes to answer that question and many others with a top 10 list of options and research-based answers.

The practices described in the booklet are broken down into three categories: reducing nitrate in the plant root zone, reducing delivery of nitrate to the field’s edge and removing nitrate at the edge of the field or downstream.

The U of I Extension led in the development of the booklet with Extension faculty co-authors from Purdue University, South Dakota State University, Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota, and collaborators at the Iowa Soybean Association.

“We wanted to come together and say for these practices that we know work to keep nitrogen out of tile drainage we want to provide some basic answers about each practice so that someone could compare the practices,” said Laura Christianson, U of I assistant professor of water quality.

“We wanted to present a variety of options that are practical for farmers and provide some comparison between the practices. Where does each practice work? How much will it cost? How well does the practice work? People can get a good idea of what’s going to work for them.”

Each practice comes with a detailed description explaining what it is, how it improves water quality, how effective it is, where it will work, whether it has any additional benefits and its level of acceptance.

The booklet also contains a chapter on economic considerations of each strategy.

An online course for certified crop advisers is being developed to accompany the booklet, with a likely launch near the end of spring 2017.

“Not only is every farm and every soil type different, but every farmer is different. Certain farmers may be really interested in doing something in the field like improving nitrogen fertilizer management or using a cover crop. Then there are certain farmers that might say they’re not going to mess with anything they have going on in the field, but maybe would use a edge of field practice like a bioreactor or a saturated buffer,” Christianson said.

The booklet, “Ten ways to reduce nitrogen loads from drained cropland in the Midwest,” is available free online at

Tom C. Doran can be reached at 815-780-7894 or Follow him on Twitter at: @AgNews_Doran.


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