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July 13, 2015

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Nutrient loss from production agriculture landscapes can represent a substantial threat to water quality. As policy and regulations in the Chesapeake Bay have impacted local-scale agriculture, Midwestern states such as Illinois, are taking action to develop a science-based voluntary approach that addresses nutrient loss reduction strategies. State and local efforts over the decades to control nutrients have yielded positive results in Illinois, however new and expanded strategies are needed to secure the future health of our water throughout Illinois and the Mississippi River Basin.

Since early 2014, Waterborne has been in partnership with the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) to better characterize effects of water quality Best Management Practices (BMPs) through numerical analysis and simulation of priority Illinois watersheds. The ICGA is an association made up of nearly 5,000 corn farmers from all over Illinois. Rodney Weinzierl, Caroline Wade, and Laura Gentry of the ICGA have been leading efforts state-wide to address policies, science, and educational components of best management practices in agriculture. The objective of the work with ICGA was to contextualize a variety of best-case and worst-case nutrient mitigation practices using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT). Results from this work pointed to important nitrate losses pathways and long-term nutrient loss reduction potential related to a broad spectrum potential best management practices, thus helping decision makers understand the implications of a wide range of nutrient loss reduction strategies. Currently, expansion of SWAT numerical simulations is being further developed to represent cover crops, fertilizer application BMPs, and additional priority watersheds with the goal of better representing specific types of BMPs that are targeted to reduce nutrient loss from corn production.

More recently, Waterborne is collaborating with the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices (CBMP), partners of ICGA, to implement subsurface water quality monitoring programs. Caroline Wade (joint appointment with ICGA and CBMP) leads this effort with key association members of the Illinois Farm Bureau, ICGA, Soybean Association, Fertilizer and Chemical Association, and Pork producers. Waterborne and CBMP are currently monitoring subsurface tile water flow and nutrient loads from CBMP demonstration farms to collect data designed to characterize the impact of cover crops. This monitoring period represents the first of at least two that will represent baseline conditions before introducing cover crops. The data from these studies will be critical to interpret the efficiency of cover crops and subsequent recommendation for more wide-spread adoption in Illinois.

Waterborne is proud to work closely with ICGA and CBMP and is committed to scientific excellence through data collection, regulatory support, and communication of scientific outcomes that should drive policy.