Pioneering assessment of a woodchip bioreactor with an organic cropping system

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $8,997.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Johnson Farm
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: Radio broadcast, newsletter article, scientific presentations
  • Natural Resources/Environment: drainage water purification
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    Improved drainage via tiling is essential for economically viable crop production in many parts of the North Central Region but this practice contributes to water quality problems by increasing nitrogen (N) loss from fields. A woodchip bioreactor is a trench full of woodchips that cleans N from tile drainage water using the natural process of denitrification. This study will monitor a bioreactor at a farm in Illinois that is transitioning to organic production. Importantly, a bioreactor with an organic cropping system has never been studied. Our monitoring will assess bioreactor effectiveness and also allow greater understanding of the magnitude of tile drainage N losses under organic cropping systems. Results will be measured in lb N/ac leaving the field, lb N/ac removed by the bioreactor, and % of the N removed by the bioreactor that would otherwise have gone downstream. Popular press and newsletter articles will be written to share information for outreach. Bioreactors promote stewardship of our water resources (ecologically sound), are a cost-effective practice for reducing N loss in tile drainage water (economically viable), and are socially responsible in that they provide cleaner water for downstream neighbors and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Perform the first-ever assessment of a woodchip bioreactor treating tile drainage from an organic cropping system
    2. Measure tile drainage nitrogen concentrations and loads during early transition from conventional to organic cropping methods and compare to research data from conventional cropping systems
    3. Share information about bioreactors in general and new findings about organic cropping nitrogen loads via popular press articles and newsletters
    4. Raise awareness in the agricultural community of the importance of farmers taking responsibility for the quality of water drainage from their farms
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.