Farm Progress

How to build a bioreactor

Slideshow: Geneseo, Ill., farmer Todd VerHeecke ups his nutrient loss reduction game by installing a woodchip bioreactor.

Jill Loehr, Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer

October 6, 2017

8 Slides

Why would a farmer rip up part of a field, dig a big hole and fill it with wood chips? Geneseo, Ill., farmer Todd VerHeecke is ready to take his nutrient loss reduction plan to the next level, so he is working with a new partnership to design, install and monitor a woodchip bioreactor.

The partnership of the Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Chapter of Land Improvement Contractors of America, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences was created to learn how new edge-of-field practices outlined in the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (ILNLRS) work on Illinois farms.

Lauren Lurkins, IFB director of natural and environmental resources, says education and implementation of in-field practices, like using the 4 R’s, was the primary focus after the ILNLRS launched two years ago. Now, as farmers like VerHeecke work cover crops and split-rate nitrogen into their farming practices, edge-of-field practices need more on-farm research.

“Woodchip bioreactors can reduce the nutrient load by 20% to 40%,” Lurkins explains. “This project is to find out how well they work in practice.”

The planning process with the NRCS, including surveys and designs, began in October 2016. VerHeecke selected a small waterway area on the west edge of the family’s farm where water flows from 40 acres into a nearby creek. Designs were approved on Aug. 1, and the partnership team arrived on VerHeecke’s farm for installation on Sept. 26.  

NRCS state conservation engineer Ruth Book was on hand for last-minute plan adjustments, like moving the final location of the bioreactor by several feet after the design team discovered another tile line. “We can be flexible like that,” she notes. The NRCS has standard woodchip bioreactor plans that can be adjusted for each site based on the field and tile flow.

The Illinois and Henry County Farm Bureau hosted a Woodchip Bioreactor Field Day on Sept. 27 for area farmers to witness project completion. Want to see a woodchip bioreactor come together? Check out this slideshow.

About the Author(s)

Jill Loehr

Associate Editor, Prairie Farmer, Loehr

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