Iowa Nutrient Research Center Announces Funding for New Water Quality Projects for 2021-22

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AMES, Iowa — The Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University announces funding of over $1.4 million to support 11 new water quality and nutrient management projects for 2021-2022.

“These projects represent new areas of research, as well as further study of areas where we need to refine understanding to improve our ability to make sound recommendations,” said Matt Helmers, Iowa Nutrient Research Center director and professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State. “These studies reflect a number of research priorities identified by a broad group of stakeholders, including farmers and researchers, who met in early 2020.”

The new projects, listed below, fall into INRC’s edge-of-field, multi-objective and nutrient management categories.

Edge of Field

  • Continued assessment of corncobs as an alternative carbon source to enhance bioreactor performance for improved water quality. Led by Michelle Soupir, professor, agricultural and biosystems engineering, this study will compare the fate of nitrogen in corncob and woodchip bioreactors at the pilot scale.
  • Developing design criteria to test a new saturated waterway conservation practice. Led by Keith Schilling, director of the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa, this study will characterize subsurface soil and groundwater conditions across a wide range of waterway sites in Iowa, to develop a hydrologic model that can test potential for a new conservation practice utilizing waterway deposits for nutrient reduction.
  • Influence of bank stabilization on floodplain sediment and phosphorus storage. Led by Peter Moore, adjunct assistant professor, natural resource ecology and management, the study will compare the sediment and phosphorus concentrations of eroded and deposited sediment in stabilized and unstabilized river bends in the Nishnabotna River watershed to determine whether bank stabilization systematically impacts reach-scale sediment and P storage.


  • Building cross-scale predictability of land-to-aquatic nitrogen loads in agriculture-dominated watersheds. Led by Chaoqun Lu, associate professor, ecology, evolution & organismal biology, the project will develop a data-model integration framework to improve the estimation accuracy of nitrogen delivery across scales.
  • How effective can carbon credit programs be in reducing nutrient losses: an assessment of public and private conservation programs and their interactions. Led by Hongli Feng, assistant professor, economics, this project will investigate the effectiveness of carbon credit programs at reducing nutrient losses.
  • Identifying the barriers and strategies to accelerate the adoption of critical edge-of-field conservation practices: A farmer-centric integrated research and extension approach. Led by Jacqueline Comito, adjunct assistant faculty, natural resource ecology and management, and program director, Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms, this project will assess Iowa landowners’ and farmers’ views on and barriers to adopting key edge-of-field practices that can improve water quality.
  • IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering work plan (2021-2022). Led by Chris Jones, researcher with IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa, this project will continue to develop and aggregate data to be used by INRC and others to support enhanced nutrient management.

Nutrient Management

  • Can adjustments to nitrogen rates reduce corn yield drag and disease implications following a cereal rye cover crop? Led by Mark Licht, assistant professor, agronomy, and extension cropping specialist, this project will improve understanding of seedling disease and nitrogen dynamics influenced by cereal rye cover crop plantings on corn growth and development.
  • Furthering our understanding of the interaction of cereal rye allelochemicals with Pythium species and their impact on corn in the cereal rye-corn production system. Led by Alison Robertson, professor, plant pathology and microbiology, this project will provide insight into the interaction of allelopathy and Pythium disease in cover crop-corn production systems and related impact on yields.    
  • Managing crop residue to reduce optimum nitrogen fertilizer inputs and increase yield. Led by Michael Castellano, professor, agronomy, this project will determine optimum nitrogen fertilizer rates based on the amount of corn and soybean residue produced in the previous year’s crop.
  • Quantifying soil nitrogen dynamics in manured fields. Led by Sotirios Archontoulis, associate professor, agronomy, this study will improve understanding of soil nitrogen dynamics in manured cropping systems to develop improved recommendations for systems that can maximize productivity while protecting natural resources.

This is the Iowa Nutrient Research Center’s ninth year funding water quality research since it was created by the Iowa Legislature. The new projects will be led by researchers from Iowa State and the University of Iowa. Collaborators include the Iowa Soybean Association, The Nature Conservancy, Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Sustainable Food Lab. Projects will extend for one to two years.

The new grants bring the total number of projects funded fully or partially by the center’s competitive award process to 115, a total of more than $13.6 million invested in nutrient-related water quality research since 2013. Find more detail about these and past projects at

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.