The Iowa Soybean Association's Environmental Programs and Services division, in partnership with conservation drainage experts in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, has been awarded a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) of $358,864 by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for a 3-year project. The project is called "Technology Transfer of Bioreactor Operations and Conservation Drainage Placement."
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the winning proposals for the 2011 Conservation Innovation Grants on Monday, August 22, 2011. The NRCS administers CIG as part of the agency's Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Through CIG, NRCS is investing nearly $22.5 million in conservation technologies and approaches that address a broad array of existing and emerging natural resource issues across the nation.
NRCS chief Dave White says, "Conservation Innovation Grants allow our partners to demonstrate innovative approaches to address some of the nation's most compelling natural resource concerns such as soil erosion, water and air quality, and energy. USDA will work very closely with farmers to help them gain opportunities to address natural resource concerns on their property." Vilsack adds, "Everyone who relies on the sustainability of our nation's natural resources for clean water, food and fiber or way of life will benefit from these grants."
Helping balance conservation work with productive farm operations
Regarding the grant administered by ISA's Environmental Programs and Services division, White says, "The Mississippi River Basin is home to some of our nation's most productive agricultural land. Through this partnership, we can develop more and better approaches and technologies to benefit farmers and help them balance critical conservation work with productive farm operations."
The grant will be used to refine operational recommendations for denitrifying bioreactors to maximize their life expectancy and effectiveness in removing nitrate from tile drainage water, minimize generation of possible undesirable byproducts during the denitrification process, and accelerate farmer awareness and implementation of bioreactors and other conservation drainage systems.
Lessons learned from the project will be transferred to farmers, watershed coordinators, NRCS personnel and drainage contractors through new interim EQIP standards in Illinois and Minnesota, refinements to Iowa's current interim standard, development and production of a bioreactor management guide and a conservation drainage tool, as well as through informational meetings.
Bioreactor demonstration projects funded by grants and partnerships
ISA EPS Watershed Management Specialist Keegan Kult is the staff lead in bioreactor demonstration projects funded by partnership with Agriculture's Clean Water Alliance/Sand County Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. He is among the researchers and demonstration project implementers who have led the way on the bioreactor practice in the Upper Midwest and who will be collaborating in this project.
Other experts leading the project include Dr. Richard Cooke and Dr. Robert Hudson, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC); Mark Dittrich, planner, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, coordinating a team from the University of Minnesota and other state and federal agencies and conservation groups.
Kult says this grant will increase awareness of the bioreactor practice. "The intent of the grant is to make resource professionals, such as NRCS personnel, watershed coordinators and drainage contractors comfortable with recommending a bioreactor to farmers," Kult says. "We will do this by developing protocols for placement, design and optimal management of a bioreactor. The grant will allow us to investigate the optimal management of a bioreactor to get the most cost-effective nitrate reduction while minimizing production of undesirable anaerobic by-products such as methyl-mercury, dissolved organic carbon and nitrous oxide."
Reports of increase in nitrate load in Upper Mississippi River Basin
Minnesota partner Mark Dittrich says, "This grant is great news, along with the opportunity to work with NRCS, university scientists, the drainage industry and soybean growers.
"The timing is important, in light of recent reports of a measured increase in nitrate load from the Upper Mississippi River Basin," Dittrich says. "There is a growing interest among farmers and conservation staff in next-generation woodchip bioreactor designs to reduce biogas and methyl mercury, as well as a high level of interest with Minnesota scientists and agency staff who are studying the discovery of woodchip bioreactors' ability to filter-out soluble phosphorus discharge in tile lines...even under snow melt conditions!"Dittrich adds, "These findings, thanks to dedicated university staff regarding the reduction in phosphorus, may be as or more important as the discovery of nitrate removal with woodchip bioreactors. We look forward to getting started working with our partners on the project." To learn more about bioreactors as a conservation practice, visit www.iasoybeans.com/environment/