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Slow the flow

Construction and Conservation Expo builds Bureau County's second constructed wetland

PRINCETON — As nutrient loss becomes a more frequent discussion in agriculture, ways to reduce nutrient drainage into waterways are being developed and shared through multiple educational programs.

From Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, Bonucci Farms is hosting a four-day public showcase of land improvement methods organized by The Wetlands Initiative (TWI), the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association (ILICA), the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA), the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Bureau County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices (ICBMP) and others.

Speakers engaged local farmers on topics including constructed wetlands, cover crops, pollinator habitats, water testing, nutrient loss reduction and USDA programs. There was also a rainfall simulator present to provide a demonstration of how water moves over and through soil.

Continuing education credits were available for Certified Crop Advisers.

The main event, however, was the construction of an approximately four-acre wetland area designed to slow water run-off into the nearby creek. Once established, the wetland, which will be roughly 12 to 18 inches deep, will allow excess nutrients to be absorbed naturally by native plants. The wetland will also be beneficial to pollinators and other wildlife.

Erika Turner with the NRCS said, "We're here to promote federal programs landowners and producers can take advantage of to help to offset the cost of using practices such as wetland construction, cover crops and other methods promoting the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy."

Caroline Wade, nutrient watershed manager for the ICGA, spoke of the most common concern of farmers in regards to the construction of wetland areas.

"It's an edge-of-field practice, so with the economy the way it is, a lot of farmers are really focused on what they can do in the field to address nutrient loss while also boosting production. The four Rs (right source, right rate, right place and right time) of nutrient management and the use of cover crops are the main issues they're concerned with first because there are other benefits to production. By the time we're talking about wetlands, they've already lost the nutrients, so they're less likely to look at it as a primary way, but it works very well," Wade said.

Wade also said farmers are concerned about the amount of crop production space it takes up, which is why these constructed wetlands are targeted within existing drainage areas.

"It helps minimize the amount of land taken up by their construction, as opposed to a restored wetland which can flood a whole field. Farmers don't want to give up that much productive ground. This specific practice works well in maintaining production levels while reducing nutrient loss. This is just an unknown to a lot of farmers which is why we're hosting these events. It's to help them understand how it works and can benefit them," Wade said.

Wade said there are also other benefits such as establishing pollinator habitats which helps address some other sustainability pressures that farmers are seeing.

Jill Kostel, TWI's senior environmental engineer, provided technical assistance to farmers and encouraged farmers to watch the construction and ask questions at any time.

Kostel said, "Constructed wetlands can get results while taking up little land. They're small and placed in areas of less productive farmland. It's been shown to be highly effective at removing nutrients and putting marginal land to work for you for many years with very little maintenance. There's also the additional environmental benefit of providing a natural pollinator and wildlife area."

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