GET THE EDGE: Bioreactors are an edge-of-field water quality protection practice. They are one of a number of emerging conservation drainage practices for reducing the amount of nitrate in field drainage water.

The ins and outs of bioreactors

Iowa Learning Farms webinar Nov. 15 will explore the past, present and future of this water quality practice.

By Julie Whitson

As substantial investments in drainage systems continue to be made across the Midwest, the use of edge-of-field practices like woodchip bioreactors can help treat tile-drained water and meet water quality goals. Bioreactors will be the topic for the Iowa Learning Farms monthly webinar Nov. 15 at noon. Anyone who is interested is urged to tune in via the internet.

The presenter will be Laura Christianson, an engineer and assistant professor in the department of crop sciences at the University of Illinois. She will explain bioreactor basics, what we know about how bioreactors work, and some novel ideas to make bioreactors work better.

Learn about woodchip bioreactor basics
How do bioreactors work? A woodchip bioreactor is made by routing drainage water through a buried trench filled with woodchips. The woodchips denitrify the water that is draining through the trench, coming off of the field.

“Woodchip bioreactors are a scientifically proven method to clean nitrate from tile drainage, and there are lots of good ideas being explored through research to make them work even better,” notes Christianson. She has nine years of experience focused on agricultural drainage water quality and denitrification bioreactors for point and nonpoint nitrate-nitrogen treatment.

This webinar will be a great source of information for anyone interested in learning about recent innovations in bioreactor design and research that is underway.  

Monthly webinar series archived
The Iowa Learning Farms monthly webinar series takes place on the third Wednesday of each month at noon. Go to at noon and log in through the “guest” option. The webinar will be recorded and archived on the ILF website for viewing at any time at

Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms is building a culture of conservation by encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices that improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable.

Whitson is an ISU Extension program specialist.




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