Iowa Nutrient Research Center Funds 16 New Water Quality Projects

AMES, Iowa — The Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University has funded 16 new water quality and nutrient management projects for 2018-19.

The projects represent approximately $1.7 million in funding for water quality research.

This is the Iowa Nutrient Research Center’s sixth year of funding research since it was created by the Iowa Legislature in 2013. The new grants bring the total number of projects funded fully or partially by the center to 76. This represents more than $8.7 million in nutrient-related water quality research. Research projects can extend for two years.

The 16 new projects will be led by researchers from Iowa State, University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa. The projects will include collaborators and partners from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Geological Survey Bureau, Iowa State’s Iowa Beef Center, Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa State Extension and Outreach, Practical Farmers of Iowa, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources and Conservation Service and the Iowa Chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

The new projects are listed below:

  • Before the Streams: Modeling the Effectiveness of In-field and Edge-of-field Practices in Reducing Nitrogen Loads. The project, led by Chaoqun Lu, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, will aim to produce an improved calibrated modeling tool to predict the effects of nutrient reduction practices across agricultural land.
  • Corn Cobs as an Alternative Carbon Source to Enhance Bioreactor Performance for Improved Water Quality. The project, led by Michelle Soupir, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, Iowa State University, will compare nitrate and phosphorus fate in corn cob and woodchip bioreactors at the pilot scale to evaluate their performance, hydraulic properties and economics.
  • Corn Management Following Cereal Rye Cover Crop with Strip Tillage and In-Row Fertilization. The project, led by Mark Licht, assistant professor of agronomy, Iowa State University, will evaluate the effects of leaving a planting strip free of a winter rye cover crop, using strip tillage and starter fertilizer, to improve seedling vigor and eliminate yield drag often associated with winter cereal rye.
  • Correlation of a Soil Health Assessment Tool and Phosphorus Loss with Surface Runoff in Agricultural Fields. The project, led by Antonio P. Mallarino, professor of agronomy, Iowa State University, will study phosphorus loss with surface runoff to better understand how soil phosphorus and management practices interact to determine risk of phosphorus loss and related water quality impairment.
  • Enhancing the Value of Cover Crops through Integration of Row Crop and Cattle Enterprises. The project, led by Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center, will evaluate effectiveness of fall grazing an oat-rye cover crop mix by beef cattle to promote a sustainable crop and livestock system. The goal is to study the potential to increase farm efficiency while improving water quality and other agronomic benefits. 
  • Evaluation of Measurement Methods as Surrogates for Tile-Flow Nitrate-Nitrogen Concentrations. The project, led by John E. Sawyer, professor of agronomy, Iowa State University, will research surrogate methods to evaluate nitrogen management practices and estimate nitrate-nitrogen concentrations in comparison with measurement of tile-flow drainage.
  • Evaluation of Saturated Buffers as a Conservation Drainage Practice for Treating Agricultural Subsurface Drainage. The project, led by Chris R. Rehmann, associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, Iowa State University, will help to better understand the key processes that allow saturated buffers to reduce nutrient transport from fields and use the information to develop scientifically sound siting and design guidance for this conservation practice. 
  • Improving Cereal Rye Cover Crop Best Management Practices to Increase Adoption of Cover Crops by Iowa Farmers. The project, led by Alison Robertson, professor of plant pathology and microbiology, will assess the effect of cover crop seeding rate and other variables on corn production, soil health and nutrient recycling. The research will also compare partial cost budgets to help determine return on investments among treatments and survey farmers to identify common seeding methods and perceived efficacy of the methods.
  • Influence of Spatial Planting Arrangement of a Winter Cereal Rye Cover Crop on Corn Productivity. The project, led by Alison Robertson, professor of plant pathology and microbiology, Iowa State University, will evaluate the effect of winter cereal rye on corn growth and development to improve understanding of yield declines that may occur in corn planted after rye.
  • Monetizing Soil Health: An Innovative Strategy to Drive Greater Adoption of Cover Crops and No-till. The project, led by Alejandro Plastina, assistant professor of economics, Iowa State University, will focus on evaluating the impact of training rural appraisers in the linkages between productivity, soil health and conservation practices, to set the stage for encouraging conservation practices through land price premiums.
  • New Technologies to Increase Implementation of Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategies. The project, led by Michael Castellano, associate professor of agronomy, Iowa State University, will support expanded use of the corn stalk nitrate test as a low-cost, quick and accurate test for nitrogen fertilizer management.
  • Understanding Farmer and Landowner Decision-Making and Message Preference Concerning Conservation Practice Adoption in the Clear Creek Watershed. The project, led by Mary E. Losch, professor of psychology, University of Northern Iowa, will detail decision-making processes of different types of farmers to identify persuasive messages to encourage adoption of conservation practices that improve water quality.
  • Using the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework to Optimize the Allocation of Scarce Conservation Funding. The project, led by John Tyndall, associate professor of natural resource ecology and management, Iowa State University, will create a financial optimization module for the recently developed toolset, the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework, which uses geographic information system analysis to locate areas where conservation practices are likely to be most effective. The project will develop an online training program and other educational materials.
  • Quantifying Hotspots of Nitrate and Dissolved Phosphorus Losses from Cropped Depressions and Their Impacts at the Catchment Scale. The project, led by Steven Hall, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, Iowa State University, will quantify the influence of cropped shallow wetland depressions on nutrient loading in agricultural watersheds in Iowa’s Des Moines Lobe to provide a template for assessing water quality improvements from these landscape features.
  • Quantifying the Effects of Best Management Practices on Sediment and Phosphorus Delivery to a Range of Eastern Iowa Rivers. The project, led by Keith Schilling, associate state geologist, Iowa Geological Survey, University of Iowa, will quantify the effectiveness of best management practices in five agricultural watersheds in eastern Iowa and assess future potential reductions to reduce sediment and total phosphorus export.
  • IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering Work Plan (2018 -2019). Led by Chris Jones, the IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering, University of Iowa, will collect, manage and interpret critical data on weather, water quality and hydrology needed to understand and predict the complex processes of nutrient mobilization, fate and transport in Iowa and the effectiveness of nutrient mitigation practices.


The Iowa Nutrient Research Center pursues science-based approaches to evaluating the performance of current and emerging nutrient management practices, providing recommendations on implementing the practices and developing new practices.