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Do you know what’s in your tile water?

Loran Steinlage at a soil health field day.
PAY ATTENTION: “We need to pay attention to what is coming out of our tile lines,” says Loran Steinlage.
Meet a farmer who found a low-cost way to determine what nutrients are leaving his fields in tile water.

It has been said that if you attend a field day and come home with even just one useful idea that increases your efficiency or improves how you farm, then the time invested in the field day was well spent. There was an easy takeaway for those who attended the Soil Health Field Day sponsored by the Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District held at Remke Farms near Harlan, Ind.

“We need to pay attention to what is coming out of our tile lines,” says Loran Steinlage, Fayette County, Iowa. Steinlage farms in northeast Iowa where drainage issues abound. It’s also an area where more scrutiny has been focused lately on making sure nutrients are staying in the field and not winding up in rivers and streams.

The U.S. Geological Survey invests huge amounts of money on sampling devices, trying to determine a baseline for nutrient flow from tile water and then identify where loss is higher than expected. Steinlage is trying to learn the same things on his own farm, but he’s doing it at a very low cost.

“I purchase boxes of test strips of nitrogen and phosphorus,” he says. “You can find them at any store that sells supplies for swimming pools. I check for nitrates and phosphorus coming out of our tile lines. The kits only cost me a few bucks, and I get a good indication as to whether I am keeping these nutrients in the field where they belong or not.”

Going forward, Steinlage believes it will become even more important to know whether or not your practices are contributing to runoff of nutrients and their buildup in places like the Gulf of Mexico.

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