Shelby CFB Nutrient Stewardship Field Day

BY LAURA SMITH, Special to

The value of on-farm research continues to be demonstrated in large ways across Illinois. The Shelby County Farm Bureau Nutrient Stewardship Field Day, held June 30th near Shelbyville, was no exception.

Farmers and other ag professionals learned about Drainage Water Management (DWM) design, construction and other considerations of the practice on the family farm of Stephen Anderson. His Shelby County Farm is where Rabin Bhattarai, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois, is conducting on-farm research.

Anderson and Bhattarai first met in graduate school and years later reconnected at a conference. As luck would have it, Bhattarai was looking for a site for his research project, which would examine the effectiveness of a DWM control structure at reducing nitrates at the watershed-scale. Anderson had recently returned home to his family’s farm and was interested in implementing some new practices.

"We were interested in doing something proactive that would help improve water quality on our farm," said Anderson. "The opportunity to also host on-farm research was a no brainer.

To help design the DWM and access cost share for this project, Anderson reached out to the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office. Through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, cost share was available.

“NRCS has funds available to help with conservation practices,” said Doug Peters, NRCS district conservationist. “It’s a competitive process, but we can cost share on water control structures, out pipes and other edge-of-field practices.”

Not only is cost share available for nutrient management and wildlife management conservation projects, but there is also a per-acre incentive available through NRCS. These programs help offset expenses of implementing plans to improve fields. NRCS is also a resource available to farmers or other landowners who want to learn more about implementing conservation practices on their land.

Anderson used the NRCS funds to install drainage tile and six water control structures in the field selected for the research project.

“With the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, we’re looking at what can be done with in-field practices, application and water management,” said Bhattarai. “Drainage water management control structures control water flowing from the tile and by doing this can help keep nitrogen in the field.”

Nitrogen is highly dissolvable, so it has potential to end up in runoff water. By holding water in the field, Bhattarai hopes to show farmers are not only keeping nitrates out of the watershed, but they are also keeping valuable — and expensive — inputs in the field for use by future crops.

“We’re also looking at if we can recycle water through subirrigation in dry times,” said Bhattarai.

Among the data being collected by this project is detailed weather and precipitation information. Through a weather station located along the field, in addition to several water control stations, Bhattarai and his research team receive up-to-the-minute information on rainfall, temperature, wind and more. These data are being incorporated into a model that will provide additional insights about how weather impacts nutrient reduction potential and how DWM can work in different watersheds and climates.

Researchers are two years into this four-year project and anticipate having additional data by the end of this year. Eventually, they hope to have enough data to include DWM as an approved practice in the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.

To read more about IFB’s nutrient stewardship field days, visit

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