Constructed wetlands for tile treatment are proven effective, cost-efficient means of reducing nutrient loss from agricultural lands. Accelerating their use is particularly important in Illinois, which ranks a close #2 among Midwestern states in its nutrient contribution to the Mississippi River system and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, tile-treatment wetlands and other structural edge-of-field practices have been extremely underutilized in Illinois due to several challenges. These barriers include a lack of familiarity with the practice among both landowners and farm advisers, high up-front implementation cost, and absence of a direct incentive for the farmer (i.e., increased productivity).
Through the proposed project, the Wetlands Initiative (TWI) and our partners will work in north-central Illinois to overcome barriers to adoption of this practice via education and demonstration strategies that apply the latest social and decision science research. We will increase knowledge of and accelerate use of the tile-treatment wetland practice via data-driven outreach in collaboration with trusted messengers; technical assistance to get wetlands built with local farm leaders to demonstrate the practice; and dissemination of water quality monitoring results to show that the wetlands work.
Project outcomes to be achieved from fall 2022 through fall 2024 include:
- Increased knowledge/awareness of 250 farmers and farm advisers about tile-treatment wetlands.
- Engagement of 20 ag-sector advisers to help disseminate tile-treatment wetlands through farmer interactions.
- Installation of new wetland demonstration sites by at least two landowners.
Four landowners who have implemented a tile-treatment wetland have committed to participate in this project by providing regular input on outreach approaches, hosting field days, and spreading the word with their peers. Other partners on this outreach and demonstration work are the Illinois Sustainable Ag Partnership, the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association, the Marshall-Putnam and Livingston County SWCD, and Illinois Central College’s Demonstration Farm. Education and outreach outputs will include adviser workshops, fact sheets, an infographic on water quality monitoring data, field days, and meetings that facilitate peer-to-peer learning. Progress will be evaluated by attendance of field events, number of new contacts, and written surveys.
This effort advances a little-used conservation tool for the agricultural sector that is both economically and environmentally sustainable and fits within a systems approach to nutrient loss reduction for productive farmland. TWI’s innovative outreach strategies provide a model that can be replicated in agricultural watersheds throughout the North-Central SARE region to increase use of conservation drainage practices to improve water quality.
Project objectives from proposal:
Over two years, TWI will achieve the following outcomes in north-central Illinois:
- Learning: A total of 250 farmers, farm advisers, and conservation professionals will have increased awareness/knowledge about tile-treatment wetlands for nutrient loss reduction.
- Action: 20 ag-sector advisers will be actively engaged to help spread the word about tile-treatment wetlands through farmer interactions.
- Action: At least two landowners will install tile-treatment wetland demonstration sites on their properties.
The project’s long-term goal is to facilitate replication of tile-treatment wetlands across Illinois and beyond as a normalized part of a sustainable farming landscape, yielding meaningful water quality improvement.