Anderson: Conservationists, farmers look to the future

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 4, 2012 - 5:30 PM

Innovations could help farmers, conservationists form new alliances that benefit the environment.


A conservation drainage system was on display last week west of Granite Falls on a farm bordering the Yellow Medicine River. The system is designed to remove nitrate from farmland runoff before it enters streams.

Photo: Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger


Like many of today's successful farmers, Doug Albin hunts, fishes, is well-educated, well-informed, highly motivated ...

And has a conservation bent.

Last week, on a parcel of the 1,200 acres he farms in this western Minnesota county, a throng a few score strong gathered to see firsthand some of the latest technologies developed to remove nitrate from farmland runoff that Albin drains through subsurface tiles.

Attendees of a two-day "conservation drainage'' workshop also learned during a field trip to Albin's farm about ways to stabilize stream banks and reduce sloughing of those lands into rivers, which in Minnesota too often destroys fish and other aquatic habitat and impairs river navigation.

Like many Minnesota farmers, Albin knows well tiling's benefit to crop yields. Shedding surface water by tiling not only allows quicker access to fields for planting and harvest, it minimizes the chances crops will be flooded.

But widespread drain tiling can and often does harm the environment, sometimes creating downstream bounce, or rising water levels, during heavy rains or snowmelt. When this occurs, aquatic vegetation needed by wetland wildlife such as ducks can be destroyed, or prevented from growing altogether -- explaining, in part, the widespread degradation of Minnesota's remaining wetlands.

But the massive amount of nitrate and, secondarily, phosphate that drains from Midwest crop fields into waterways each year might pose the biggest environmental challenge to researchers and farmland conservation practitioners.

Stressed during last week's two-day gathering in Granite Falls, not far from Albin's farm, was that no magic bullet exists to solve all environmental problems that attend modern agriculture.

"We have to have a 'tool box' with different methods to address different problems," said Jeppe Kjaersgaard, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at South Dakota State.

One major problem is that discharged farmland nitrate contributes to a large hypoxia, or dead, zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River, where little or no aquatic life exists.

Albin hopes the two innovative nitrate reduction systems placed along an edge of one of his farm fields bordering the Yellow Medicine River will help cleanse water flowing from the field.

Both were displayed in mid-installation last week.

"This land, and the Yellow Medicine River, are where my father-in-law spent his life," Albin said. "He fished and hunted here, and trapped, along with farming. He spent hours and hours on the river. So I have an interest in keeping it clean."

One nitrate-cleansing method involves placement underground of a woodchip bioreactor system near where water drained from Albin's field flows into the Yellow Medicine River.

Before the water exits the field, it will be collected in a trench filled with wood chips, which in turn have microbes growing on them that eat nitrate, cleansing the water. Cost: As much as $13,000 to treat less than 25 acres.

Less expensively, a saturated buffer system developed at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa, will be completed on Albin's farm.

This method takes advantage of existing streamside vegetative buffers -- which in Minnesota support pheasants and other game and nongame wildlife -- routing tile water into and beneath them, where nitrate is removed by the plants.

"This provides an added advantage to existing buffers,'' said Dan Jaynes, a soil scientist with the Ames laboratory. "Already buffers provide wildlife habitat and prevent stream bank erosion. If we saturate them, they can also remove nitrate."

The U.S. Agriculture Department is beginning to share the costs of some of these innovations, aiding Albin, for instance, who also received money from the state Legacy Act's Clean Water Fund.

Albin believes farmers and technical experts should target available funds very specifically.

"My wife and I enjoy a balance," he said. "We try to make a living farming, and at the same time mitigate any effects on the environment. But if I've got a problem on only 20 percent of my farm, I want to concentrate my efforts on that 20 percent, not all of it. We need to concentrate our resources. We need to be smarter."

Progress, he said, will be incremental.

"Sometimes agendas are set to create controversy, and divide urban and rural residents. Right now society is telling us to grow a lot of corn. We need to do that without harming the environment. Instead of winners and losers, we need to create winners all the way around."

Dennis Anderson

  • related content

  • Runoff from farm fields, particularly those that have been tiled to accelerate the removal of water, dumps pollutants into tributaries of the Minnesota River that ultimately end up in the Gulf of Mexico. New filtration systems are designed to filter the pollutants before they leave the fields.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Denver 7:30 PM
Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Carolina 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Green Bay
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Denver 6:00 PM
Portland 7:00 PM
Utah 7:00 PM
Toronto 7:00 PM
Atlanta 7:30 PM
LA Clippers 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Sacramento 9:30 PM
Golden State
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Nashville 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Arizona 9:00 PM
San Jose 9:00 PM
Calgary 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Ark-Little Rock 64 FINAL
Bradley 54
Brown 67 FINAL
Central Conn St 55
Stetson 59 FINAL
Florida State 63
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
Northwestern 63
Ohio 49 FINAL
George Washington 77
Southern Utah 61 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 70
Elon 67 FINAL
Kennesaw St 65
Dartmouth 49 FINAL
Penn State 69
Green Bay 70 FINAL
UC Irvine 72
DePaul 58 2nd Half 3:51
Colorado 76
Lewis & Clark 39 2nd Half 6:04
Portland 67
SC State 30 2nd Half
Abilene Christian 23
Manhattan 22 1st Half 5:56
Fordham 21
Truett-McConnell 16 1st Half 7:10
Ga Southern 27
Citadel 22 1st Half 6:49
Michigan State 23
Miami-Ohio 14 1st Half 5:43
Ohio State 34
Gardner-Webb 22 1st Half 7:17
Purdue 29
Idaho 18 1st Half 7:57
Northern Ky 20
Fairfield 6:00 PM
North Dakota St 6:00 PM
Alcorn State
UT Martin 6:00 PM
SE Louisiana 6:00 PM
Oakland 6:00 PM
Florida A&M 6:00 PM
East Carolina
Eastern Ky 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
IUPU-Ft Wayne 6:00 PM
Illinois State
Norfolk State 6:00 PM
James Madison
Binghamton 6:00 PM
Mount St Marys
Towson 6:00 PM
Long Island 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Notre Dame
William & Mary 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
Liberty 6:00 PM
Delaware 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
MD-Eastern Shore 6:00 PM
St Bonaventure
Colgate 6:00 PM
Kansas 6:00 PM
Mercer 6:00 PM
East Tenn St 6:00 PM
VA Commonwealth
Va Military 6:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Bucknell 6:00 PM
Wake Forest
Alabama A&M 6:00 PM
Western Mich
New Orleans 6:05 PM
Columbia 6:30 PM
Long Beach State 6:30 PM
St Johns
Wofford 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Southern U 7:00 PM
UAB 7:00 PM
Char Southern 7:00 PM
Colorado State
North Florida 7:00 PM
NC Central 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Rice 7:00 PM
Central Mich 7:00 PM
McNeese State
Coppin State 7:00 PM
Furman 7:00 PM
SE Missouri St 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Weber State 7:00 PM
Grambling St 7:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
Penn 7:00 PM
Chicago State 7:00 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Simpson 7:05 PM
Tenn Tech 7:05 PM
Murray State 7:05 PM
Southern Ill
Oral Roberts 7:05 PM
Missouri State
Jacksonville St 8:00 PM
Air Force
Milwaukee 8:00 PM
Wisconsin 8:00 PM
Coll of Charleston 8:00 PM
North Dakota 8:00 PM
Northern New Mexico 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
UC Santa Barbara 8:00 PM
Miami-Florida 8:00 PM
Northeastern 8:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Kent State 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
UC Davis 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
Lewis-Clark State 8:05 PM
Eastern Wash
Walla Walla 8:05 PM
Portland State
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Marshall 9:00 PM
Boise State 9:30 PM
UC Riverside 10:00 PM
San Diego St
Tulane 10:00 PM
Loyola Marymount 10:00 PM
Wichita State
Nebraska 12/23/14 12:00 AM
Memphis 55
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Holy Cross 78
Temple 59 FINAL
Villanova 64
Georgia Southern 68 FINAL
Southern U 52
Xavier 60 FINAL
Kennesaw St 61
Eastern Michigan 52 FINAL
Michigan 81
Brescia 56 FINAL
Marshall 127
(21) West Virginia 54 FINAL
Ohio State 96
MD-Eastern Shore 78
Cornell 79 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 61
St Bonaventure 70 FINAL
Georgetown 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Northeastern 62
Eastern Washington 67 FINAL
Florida 56
Rice 63 FINAL
Texas Southern 69
Butler 72 FINAL
Illinois State 60
UC Davis 53 2nd Half 3:15
(16) Stanford 65
Washington St 73 2nd Half 5:49
Loyola Marymount 46
Sacramento St 65 2nd Half 11:21
San Jose St 68
SIU-Edwardsville 34 2nd Half
Oakland 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Belmont 6:00 PM
(14) Georgia
George Mason 6:00 PM
Kansas 6:05 PM
Abilene Christian 7:00 PM
Kansas State
UT Martin 7:00 PM
Hampton 7:00 PM
Florida State 7:00 PM
Murray State 7:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast 7:05 PM
Arkansas State
BYU 8:00 PM
Utah State
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question