January 2016 Newsletter 
North Central Region Water Network
Extension-led, community-driven outreach and education
Director's Update
Toledo and Flint
In August 2014, residents of Toledo, Ohio and surrounding suburbs were advised not to drink the water from their taps. The cause? Harmful algal blooms fed by chronically high levels of phosphorus entering Lake Erie, primarily from agricultural sources - the products of which most of us consume every single day. The Ohio State University and many other partners are working closely together to prevent this and other crises caused by nutrients leaving the land. 

Fast forward to 2016 and drive 100 miles north to Flint, Michigan. Another systemic failure to protect drinking water -- our most fundamental physical need as human beings. Michigan State University experts indicated that the Flint water crisis could cost "into the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars." While the economic impact of this preventable crisis is worth noting, more important is the tragedy of potential permanent damage to the lives of the citizens of Flint. 

Land-grant universities and extension contribute research, education, and civic engagement resources to address societal challenges like these. We strive to help individuals, organizations, communities make wise choices in agriculture, community development, and youth development. 

Universities and extension are a small, but important part of collective decisions at the local, state, and national level, decisions that determine whether we will have safe drinking water. We can only hope that the crises like those in Toledo and Flint will help us all learn to do better and to take action to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.

Important Item:

The North Central Region Water Network's second conference and regional working session will be March 21-23, 2016 in Lincoln, NE.  Theme: "From Science to Success. "  Please visit our website  for more information and to register.


Rebecca Power, Network Director


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Network Initiatives
Visit our  Network Initiatives Page for more information on previous and current initiatives, and future funding opportunities. 

Regional Soil Health Capacity Building

Many conventional farmers don't believe that improving soil health can improve their bottom line. Fewer still believe that changes they can make will improve the ability of their fields to mitigate climate variability or to protect water quality. Farmers who try a few practices (e.g. cover crops, no-till) often give up after the first few years, due to challenges in controlling the cover crop or managing crop residue, or because of perceived yield losses/increased pest problems. Many first line professionals, such as Extension educators, Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) staff and Certified Crop Advisors (CCA), don't have the advanced knowledge, training, or tools to adequately assist these farmers. There is also minimal collaboration from these professionals across the region on addressing the problem and finding a beneficial solution on how to educate growers on soil health.
Long term goals:
  • Build capacity in each state's Land Grant systems to deliver soil health training, research and resources.
  • Lay groundwork to apply for grants (AFRI, GLRI, others) to address identified needs.
  • Collaborate on future efforts to address identified gaps/barriers.
  • Create a permanent, functioning group, based on the MCCC, that will allow Land.
  • Grant universities to share information, resources and research on soil health.

Intended Impacts
The project will create a North Central Soil Health Work Group with representatives from Land Grant Universities across the 12 state region. The work team members will participate in a soil health conference to improve their knowledge in soil health and develop a common body of knowledge and accepted science that will be used in developing the regional framework to address soil health education. This team will be the foundation for an ongoing collaborative multi state network that's goal is to increase the visibility and understanding of soil health for Extension educators, agency professionals, agronomists, Certified Crop Advisors and farmers in the North Central Region. The team will develop and deliver soil health education at field days, workshops, webinars and printed resources.
Kevin Erb
Conservation Professional Training Program Coordinator, University of Wisconsin Extension


Leadership Spotlight: University of Minnesota Extension
Each month we call attention to a significant state-led project and associated leadership team member from our Network. These spotlights demonstrate the diversity of ongoing water research and outreach projects in our region. Please contact your state's North Central Region Water Network Leadership Team member for details on the projects in your area. 


Drinking Water Studies

Dakota County keeps track of drinking water trends across its land area by conducting groundwater studies. The information helps the County understand current issues with its drinking water supply and prepare for future challenges. 

The Hastings Area Nitrate Study (Phase I) was conducted from 1999 through 2003 to determine the extent and sources of nitrate contamination problems in the City of Hastings and the surrounds areas. One quarter of the private wells tested as part of the study exceeded the drinking water standard for nitrate (10 milligrams per liter) and another quarter contained elevated levels of nitrate (3-10 milligrams per liter). Nitrate can come from a variety of sources, but in the Hastings Area Nitrate Study, it was found to be very strongly associated with row crop agriculture. The Vermillion River was found to play a role in transporting contaminated water downstream. 


New N Recs for Irrigated Sands, Based on Local Research

Revised fertilizer guidelines for corn grown on irrigated sandy soils have been published by University of Minnesota Extension. You can read the bulletin by clicking here:  "Fertilizing Corn Grown on Irrigated Sands" (AG-NM-1501).
These new recommendations are locally important for several reasons:
  • Irrigated sands are relatively common in the eastern part of Dakota County. If you are unsure of your soil's texture, you can look it up on the USDA-NRCS Web Soil Survey. Or you're welcome to give me a call (651-480-7223).
  • Irrigated sands require careful management to control nutrient loss. Because coarse soils have low water holding capacity, nitrate nitrogen can be easily lost to leaching, wasting your investment in fertilizer and contaminating water.
  • Dakota County farmers played an important role in developing these new recommendations. Many of the studies that the new guidelines are based on were conducted on farms in Dakota County. To learn how to be part of this project moving forward, click here.
The new guidelines include new nitrogen rates for corn grown after corn on irrigated sandy soils, nitrogen credits for corn grown after other crops, results of trials of different nitrogen application timings and sources, and Best Management Practices to reduce economic risk and risk of environmental degradation.
Nitrogen rate:  The recommended nitrogen rate is based on the Maximum Return to Nitrogen (MRTN), or the amount of nitrogen that will pay for itself in increased yield. The MRTN rate is calculated using a database of nitrogen rate experiments and the ratio of the price of nitrogen fertilizer divided by the sale price of the crop (see example graph, courtesy of John Lamb). A calculator for the MRTN rate is available  online here . This calculator does not yet include the new recommendations for irrigated sands. Until it is updated, you can use the tables in the  new bulletin  to find the MRTN and account for nitrogen credits for previous crops.
Nitrogen application timing: On irrigated sandy soils, split nitrogen applications are superior to a single application. Previous studies had led to that conclusion, and recent Extension studies on Minnesota's irrigated sands have confirmed that modern corn production systems benefit from split nitrogen applications.
Split nitrogen applications are beneficial because in wet years nitrogen applied pre-plant is at risk of being leached by spring rains before the crop takes it up. In recent Extension studies, in dry years split applications achieved yields that were as good as those in plots that received all the nitrogen as urea pre-plant, and in wet years split applications provided higher yields than nitrogen applied pre-plant.
Because of these findings, the new Extension guidelines do not recommend pre-plant nitrogen application on irrigated sands. The total nitrogen rate can be split among starter, side-dress, injection into irrigation water (fertigation), or UAN used as a carrier for pre-emergent herbicides. The last application of nitrogen should be done before corn silks turn brown.
Nitrogen sources and additives: Many products are available to reduce nitrogen loss, such as slow-release nitrogen sources and nitrification inhibitors. A recent study reported in the bulletin found that several such products did provide greater corn yield than untreated urea applied pre-plant. However, the products tested were not superior to split urea applications.
Best Management Practices: The BMPs recommended in the bulletin include:
  • Do not over-apply nitrogen: Use the MRTN rate and subtract credits for nitrogen supplied by previous crops, manure, irrigation water, starter fertilizer, and the nitrogen included in your P fertilizer application.
  • Apply nitrogen fertilizer split between planting and at least one in-season application. Do not apply nitrogen to irrigated sands in the fall or pre-plant. Extension research has shown that on irrigated sands, split nitrogen applications provide superior yields, net returns, and environmental benefits.
  • Protect against nitrogen losses by taking steps to reduce volatilization and avoid overwatering. 
Extension research has shown that, because of the high risk of nitrogen loss on these sandy soils, it is important to both your bottom line and your environmental stewardship to use the above BMPs.

Faye Sleeper, University of Minnesota
Faye Sleeper is co-director of University of Minnesota's Water Resources Center. Recently, she co-led the development and implementation of the Watershed Specialist Training Program, oversaw the Conservation Reserve Program Readiness Midwestern region project, and managed the Agricultural Impacts on Water Quality project. She serves as co-chair of the university's Storm Water Linkage Committee and coordinates the Climate Adaptation Partnership. Ms. Sleeper represents University of Minnesota Extension on the Board of Water and Soil Resources and on the North Central Region Water Network.
Ms. Sleeper received her M.A. in geography from the University of Minnesota and her B.A. in Sociology and History from Grinnell College. Prior to her current position, she worked at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in several positions, including leading the development of the early Total Maximum Daily Load program, managing the nonpoint source programs and wastewater treatment grants and compliance for municipalities.

The  Current Webinar
Our  w ebinar series is your connection to our Network and water outreach, research and collaboration efforts across the North Central Region. Designed for busy working professionals like yourself, the webinars are only an hour and won't take up much space on your calendar. We hope you will join the conversation. 

Please visit our  webinar overview page  for details on upcoming and past webinars. 

The Current Webinar 16: 
Innovative Approaches to Manure Management
February 17, 2016 
2:00 - 3:00 CT

If you happened to miss one of our webinars in 2014 or 2015, be sure to visit our webinar archive page to get caught up on the latest from our Network. You can also view these by going directly to our NEW NCRWN YouTube Page.   Thank you!

Town Hall Discussion - The Interagency Working Group: Harmful Algal Blooms Webinar
Feb. 9, Feb. 10, Feb. 11
The purpose of these discussions is to initiate conversation between federal partners and their stakeholders regarding challenges, concerns, and needs related to HABs and hypoxia, and their impacts on Great Lakes regional interests and communities. Learn more here.
2016 Extension Drainage Design and Water Management Workshop
Minneapolis, MN February 17-18, 2016
The 2016 Extension Drainage Design & Water Management Workshops are designed for drainage contractors, agricultural producers, agricultural consultants, engineers, and conserva-tion staff who are interested in the nuts and bolts of how subsurface drainage systems work, and how they are designed to meet production, profitability, and environmental objectives. Learn more here. 

Precision Conservation Research and Design Forum: Pre-Workshop Webinar
Feb 4th, Feb. 11, Feb. 18, Feb. 26 @ 2:00 PM CT
These sessions are not mandatory but would help prepare participants for the workshop. Join us for as many as interest you and fit your schedule. Anyone is welcome to attend the webinars and participate in the R&D Forum online. Feel free to distribute this list to others who may be interested. Learn more here.
Learn more her
From Science to Success: Bridging the Gap Between Knowledge and Practice in Water Resource Management
Lincoln, Nebraska: March 21-23, 2016
Save the date for the North Central Region Water Network's 2016 Conference "From Science to Success." Check back for details Learn more here. 
Funding Opportunities
NOAA Great Lakes Habitat Restoration Regional Partnership Grants
Deadline: February 2, 2016
Projects funded through NOAA have strong on-the-ground habitat restoration components that provide social and economic benefits for people and their communities in addition to long-term ecological habitat improvements. NOAA seeks to openly compete funding available for multi-year Great Lakes regional habitat restoration partnerships. Partnerships will result in implementation of a wide-range of individual habitat restoration projects focused in U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) ( with funds provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  More info here.

FY16 Environmental Literacy Grants (ELG) 
Deadline: February 8, 2016
The NOAA Office of Education has issued a competitive funding opportunity for education projects designed to strengthen the public's and/or K-12 students' environmental literacy to enable informed decision-making necessary for community resilience to extreme weather events and other environmental hazards. Successful projects will advance NOAA's mission and build the environmental literacy necessary for community resilience by focusing on geographic awareness and an understanding of Earth systems and the threats and vulnerabilities that are associated with a community's location. Eligible applicants are limited to institutions of higher education; other nonprofits, including informal education institutions such as museums, zoos, and aquariums; K-12 public and independent schools and school systems; and state, local and Indian tribal governments in the United States. Proposed projects should be between two and five years in duration and have total budget requests of $250,000 to $500,000 for all years of the project. More info here.
In Case You Missed it...
The Current Webinar 15: Systems Approach to Nutrient Management
  • Anne Baird, Program Director, The Ohio State University,  Mentoring for Early Career Extension Educators: A Systems Approach to Nutrient Management
  • Jeremy Solin, Wisconsin Coordinator and National Program Manager of ThinkWater,  ThinkWater: Integrating Systems Thinking into Water Education, Extension and Research

  • View my videos on YouTube


NCRWN Fact Sheet

Want to see what we have been up to in the North Central Region Water Network? Check out our new fact sheet for more details. 


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