Field day focus: Moultrie County farmer installing unique buffer design

Pitchfork setup allows more vegetation to take up nutrients, according to creator.

Jon Schoonover, Southern Illinois University College of Agricultural Sciences, developed a pitchfork design as an alternative to a standard saturated buffer. However, the one to be installed on Clint Robinson’s farm will only have dispersion lines on one side. (Image courtesy Jon Schoonover)

By Kay Shipman


Moultrie County farmer Clint Robinson will install a first-of-its kind saturated buffer, starting a new era of edge-of-field stewardship in Illinois.

A field day showcasing the new saturated buffer will start at 10:30 a.m., March 20 on Robinson’s field west of Timber Lake Golf Course near Sullivan. Advance registration by March 15 is needed for meal planning.

Robinson, a member of Illinois Farm Bureau’s Conservation and Natural Resources Strength with Advisory Team, volunteered to be the first farmer to test a new saturated buffer design and allow Southern Illinois University (SIU) researchers to learn if this practice can help reduce field nutrient losses in the region.

Robinson’s field is strategically located near Lake Shelbyville. “What we do on this farm is the best we can to eliminate any agricultural nutrient losses,” he said.

“We’re excited to continue exploring edge-of-field practices,” said Lyndsey Ramsey, IFB associate director of natural and environmental resources. “Saturated buffers are a newer practice in Illinois and not included in the state Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS). We like these field days to allow farmers to think about these practices as a local solution.”

IFB is one of the buffer project partners, along with the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and SIU College of Agricultural Sciences. Moultrie County Farm Bureau is assisting with the event.

Jon Schoonover, SIU hydrology professor, developed an alternative, pitchfork design with three dispersion lines to the standard saturated buffer with a single lateral line.

Saturated buffers are vegetated strips between tile-drained fields and waterways. A saturated buffer uses denitrification and vegetative uptake to remove nutrients from drainage water.

Schoonover added multiple laterals to move more drainage water through the system and allow more vegetation to take up nutrients, he explained.

Related: Schoonover presented his idea at Illinois Farm Bureau’s 2018 Annual Meeting. Hear more from him at this link.

The heavier clay soil at Robinson’s site causes water to percolate more slowly; however, additional laterals in a pitchfork design may prove more advantageous in clay soils, according to Schoonover.

The new design includes shut-off valves in the tile lines closest to the edge of the field, allowing Robinson to shut off the lines and let the area dry prior to fieldwork.

The in-field study on Robinson’s field will include the installation of a standard saturated buffer near the pitchfork design to allow comparison. Schoonover will collect data on flow and nutrient levels, allowing him to calculate the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus that are absorbed in the system. The research is funded by the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council.

Along with providing an opportunity to test a new conservation practice, Robinson also believes his field will help SIU student scientists learn. “These timber soils are heavy clay. I think it is a good option for SIU students to study heavier soils,” he said.

Ramsey noted the research data collected will contribute to knowledge about how saturated buffers work in Illinois. Such information one day could lead to the practice being added to the NLRS.

For information or to register by March 15, contact the Moultrie County Farm Bureau at 217-728-4214 or Douglas County Farm Bureau at 217-253-4442.

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