Research Progress Outlined for ISU's Iowa Nutrient Research Center

AMES, Iowa — Progress is being made on 10 projects funded through the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University.

The center was established in 2013 by the Iowa Board of Regents in response to legislation passed last spring by the Iowa Legislature and signed by Governor Terry Branstad. The center received $1.5 million for 2013-2014 for research evaluating the performance of current and emerging nutrient management practices, providing recommendations on implementing the practices and developing new practices.

Plans for the projects were prepared by scientists at Iowa State, the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa, each addressing critical needs or gaps in nitrogen and phosphorus research identified in the science assessment that was part of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The plans were shared with the center’s advisory council last September, with funding first available in October.

Highlights from first quarter progress reports include:

-- Cover crop management techniques are the focus of one project. Fifty-four field plots were established in October and a rye cover planted for experiments and measurements that will take place this spring. In addition, two experiments in controlled environment chambers are underway, and simulate the field experiments. 

-- One project involves extensive fieldwork in the Cedar River watershed. Fourteen monitoring sites were selected last fall, with stream water collected from each site once every two weeks from mid-October until early December. Water sampling will resume in the spring, plus soil samples will be collected. The research will help identify actual nutrient losses in relation to land use practices.

-- Farmers need solid financial information and user-friendly tools to help them make decisions about adopting effective non-point source Best Management Practices (BMP). This project began with development of preliminary BMP budgets for the majority of the nitrogen and phosphorus practices described in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Design work is underway on spreadsheets that could be used by producers as they analyze BMP options on their farms.

-- Another project focuses on measuring nitrogen and phosphorus loads on a scale from a few hundred acres to a few thousand acres. Eighteen monitoring sites have been established in several central Iowa watersheds, where water quality monitoring will begin this spring. Nutrient concentrations and flow data will be used to calculate mass nutrient load from the watersheds for evaluation against land use and management information.

A website for the Iowa Nutrient Research Center provides information on all 10 projects. The website,, is part of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy website,

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a science and technology-based approach to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico.

The center’s director is John Lawrence, the associate dean for extension and outreach in Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of ISU Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension and Outreach.

"The Iowa Board of Regents has requested $1,548,000 in legislative funding for 2014-2015 to continue the research of the center," said Lawrence. "We believe this is important research for the state and are hopeful the work continues into the years ahead to make progress that improves Iowa's waters."