By DeAnne Bloomberg
Protecting water quality in McHenry County motivated the local county Farm Bureau to approach the McHenry County Conservation District (MCCD) about teaming up to install a woodchip bioreactor on the farmland portion of the conservation district’s property.
Dan Volkers, the McHenry County Farm Bureau manager, said the project was inspired by the county Farm Bureau Board of Directors who wanted to collaborate with other local organizations to address nutrient losses from farmland.
“In McHenry County, we rely a lot on drain tile to make fields profitable,” said Volkers. “Ideally, we’d like to keep nutrients in the crop, but when they do escape into a tile line, (woodchip bioreactors) offer the possibility to address that issue.”
A bioreactor is essentially a trench filled with woodchips at the edge of a field that cleans nitrates out of tile drainage water. Using funding from Illinois Farm Bureau’s Nutrient Stewardship Grant Program, that’s what the groups installed last month in a McHenry County farm field that MCCD manages. The project partners relied on University of Illinois Assistant Professor Laura Christianson for input on the design of the structure. Christianson’s extensive background and research on the practice is leading farmers to do more bioreactor installations across the Midwest.
Of the 25,600 acres of land managed by MCCD, 5,400 acres are farmland. The bioreactor site was selected based on potential environmental impact, regulatory considerations and the ability to keep the project going for a significant amount of time.
During a recent virtual field day hosted at the site, John Henning, president of the MCCD Board of Trustees and former vice president of the McHenry County Farm Bureau, emphasized the importance of having both a conservation group and farmer groups involved in the project.
“I look at this as one more way for us to help the environment and hopefully make the world a better place while we raise food for consumers and ourselves,” he said.
“As farmers, our goal is to keep the nutrients where we need them – in the field,” Henning added. “We don’t want to be the cause of any pollution if we can control it.”
MCCD Natural Resource Coordinator Gabe Powers said he sees benefits from collaborating with the agricultural industry.
"I'm encouraged by the new generation (of farmers) and that Farm Bureau came to us,” he said. “It's not just about commodity; it's about the community.”
This virtual field day was one of eight held across the state this summer. Learn more at www.ILFB.org/FieldDays.
“This project is a perfect example of how Farm Bureau can create lasting impacts on nutrient stewardship, including both environmental and community benefits,” said Lauren Lurkins, Illinois Farm Bureau director of environmental policy.
This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.