OHIO — The first-ever Bureau County conservation expo was hosted this week at Thacker Farms, just outside of Ohio.
The three-day event allowed area farmers to explore conservation and land improvement practices including cover crops, grassed waterway, tile drainage, filter strips and more.
The expo was organized by the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association (ILICA), the Wetlands Initiative (TWI) and other partners.
Janet Doubet, ILICA’s executive director, said being able to have the chance to host the expo to allow farmers to see some of the conservation practices now being done helps rid their hesitance on the ideas they may have about the new applications.
The highlight of the event was watching the construction of a CP39 wetland on the Thacker property, which will be used to naturally capture and remove excess nutrients from tile drainage.
Doubet said with the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy now being the buzz in the farming industry, many farmers are being directed to look at more conservation practices like the constructed wetland.
The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is a state effort to improve water quality at home and downstream by reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in lakes, streams and rivers.
The strategy lays out a comprehensive suite of best management practices for reducing nutrient loads from wastewater treatment plants and urban and agricultural runoff.
“With these shows, when you get the volunteers and grants, it provides the opportunity to install the wetland at a minimum cost to the landowner, to participating agencies and you have the ability to do the monitoring and come up with the real hard data that’s going to drive promoting the practice down the road,” Doubet said.
Jill Kostel, TWI senior environmental engineer, further explained everyone — from urban activities to rural activities — have to do their part with the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy.
“What we’re trying to say is nutrient run-off is a success. Productivity is a great success and it’s just a side effect of that success,” she said.
While there are three practices that aid in removing excess nutrients, a constructed wetland is just one practice that can help manage what’s coming through the tile.
“We realize when people hear wetlands they have a whole different picture of what we’re talking about,” she said. “They are thinking 1,000-acre wetland that takes farming operations out. We’re saying, ‘no this is a constructed wetland. It’s tiny and compacted. It’s shallow with only being about 18-inches deep. You want to average about one foot so it’s not like a restored wetland.’”
The wetland area at the Thacker farm is about 4.2-acres in size, which includes the surrounding buffer. The cost to construct the wetland is estimated to be anywhere between $20,000 and $25,000, but the price of a constructed wetland is based on size.
The wetland practice is available for reimbursement under the Conservation Reserve Program (CPR) or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) of the Farm Bill.
It has a high cap cost at the beginning, but lasts 50 years, said Kostel.
“We would like to show over time your return investment is very good because this is not something that you try one year, and then you’re not interested in it. This is a commitment. It’s a big decision for a landowner to give up this much acreage for 50 to 70 years,” she said.
Kostel said constructed wetlands are not put on prime farmland. The goal of a wetland is to intercept tile drainage and let natural processes in the wetland remove the nitrogen.
Kostel said she hopes to do a few more wetland demonstrations in the area, so more farmers can see it’s about what works and fits into their landscape.
“I’d like to show it’s not a cookie cutter,” she said. “We’re just interested in getting it in the top of people’s mind when they’re thinking what can I do, because no one in this area has seen this practice before.”
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