Bureau County builds water analysis program

Water data taken weekly at 26 sites during growing season reveal trends for farmers.

Bureau County teachers learn about a Farm Bureau water analysis program during Summer Ag Institute. In addition to weekly water testing, program participants host a summer field day for farmers. (Photo by Jill Frueh)

By Jill Frueh

Nutrient stewardship programs took off in Bureau County around 2015. Farm Bureau, along with a locally organized group, purchased a nitrate sensor with the intentions of weekly water testing for landowners and operators. But it appeared that the old saying, “if you build it, they will come,” did not hold true. 

Looking for other ideas to encourage regular testing, the group, consisting of Farm Bureau, representatives of ag retail and local landowners, decided to locate farmers willing to test specific locations weekly throughout the year. This project has grown to 26 sites.

With help from Illinois Farm Bureau, the local group has developed the water collection program into a water analysis program. During the past year, we partnered with Waterborne Environmental to evaluate and analyze nitrate readings, along with meteorological information and farming practices.   

Each week, water samples are collected from tile outlets, ponds or streams and are picked up at collection sites around the county and delivered to the Farm Bureau for testing. Nitrate readings are then uploaded to an app for further examination. Finally, monthly confidential data analysis is returned to farmers. This aggregated information shows trends throughout the growing season. 

As group member Malcolm Stambaugh, Ag View FS Crop Specialist, said in a recent interview, “It’s all about getting customers to ask questions and try new things. We exist to be that resource to them.” 

This program is far from over, but it is our hope that through our efforts farmers learn more about the 4Rs, try new practices and experience results from their efforts.

Jill Frueh serves as Bureau County Farm Bureau manager.