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Improving Mississippi River Water Quality, One Farm at a Time

Terry Bachtold (left), Livingston County SCWD, and Richard Hungerford, Illinois NRCS MRBI coordinator, talk before presenters begin the next stop.

Terry Bachtold (left), Livingston County SCWD, and Richard Hungerford, Illinois NRCS MRBI coordinator, talk before presenters begin the next stop.

Terry Bachtold is proud of what the Indian Creek Watershed Project is doing for water quality in north central Illinois.

Bachtold, with the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD),  a sponsor of the Indian Creek Watershed Project, was ready with an application and a plan when the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative was announced by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 2010.

Through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), NRCS works with sponsors to encourage agricultural producers to manage nitrogen and phosphorus within their operations in order to reduce runoff and downstream nutrient loading. The effort stretches across the 2,350-mile basin from Lake Itasca, Minn. to the Gulf of Mexico. MRBI was launched in 2009, and Illinois is one of 13 states participating.

MRBI is often implemented through partner agencies, and in this case the Indian Creek Watershed Project received $247,000 in MRBI funds to help producers incorporate conservation practices into their agricultural operations while maintaining productivity. Indian Creek Watershed is a sub-watershed of the greater Mississippi River Basin Watershed.

Currently, 35 percent of the producers in the 82,000-acre Indian Creek Watershed are participating in MRBI. The Indian Creek Watershed Project has a goal of reaching 75 percent producer participation.

Key to the project’s success is research that provides guidance for precision nutrient control. Project partners the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency work with participants to create nutrient management test plots. These plots will identify specific fertilizer application rates and treatments for finding the perfect balance between crop production needs and water quality in Indian Creek.

Tour participants listen to experts about the test plot expectations.

Tour participants listen to experts about the test plot expectations.

Recently, more than 120 producers toured five of the farms participating in MRBI and the CTIC study. They met with participating landowners, and learned about the changes they made in their operations to meet MRBI criteria and viewed test plots that focused on nutrient management and the “4-Rs” (Right Source, Right Time, Right Place, and Right Rate).

And Terry Bachtold, for one, hopes that many of those attending the tour this year will be involved with MRBI and having their own operations as part of the Indian Creek Watershed Team Tour next year!

Find out more about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative.

Check out more conservation stories on the USDA blog.

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