Seeking clean water, governor inspects Greene County bioreactor

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Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, left, was briefed Monday morning on the details of the Greene County bioreactor by Keegan Kult, right, environmental scientist with the Iowa Soybean Association.

bravard gliff
The Bravard farm in Hardin Township, Greene County, includes conservation practices such as ox bow restorations and a bioreactor. There is also a 4,750-head wean-to-finish hog confinement.

As part of his ongoing effort to show his commitment to the improvement of the state’s water quality, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad came to rural Jefferson Monday morning for a boots-on-the-ground tour of an 8-year-old bioreactor on the farm of Mike and Kathy Bravard.

Area farmers, local and state politicians and a contingent of Greene County Future Farmers of America were among about 60 people attending the event, which was sponsored by the Iowa Soybean Association and hosted at their farm at 746 Q Ave., about eight miles north of Jefferson.

“We’re committed to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and to cleaner water for our state,” Branstad told the assembled crowd, which included several members of the local media.

Greene County native Mike Bravard, who raises crops and livestock, said he has pursued a variety of conservation practices in his operation.

“Farmers are getting better every day at reducing tillage and managing nitrogen,” Bravard said. “We’re turning more to in-season application of fertilizer, nitrogen stabilizers, a whole lot of things to reduce nutrient loss.”

Bioreactors are another cost-effective tool, Bravard said, an edge-of-field conservation practice recommended by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy as a way to remove nitrate from water flowing through farm field tile lines.

Tile line water soaks the wood chips in the bioreactor, causing a chemical reaction that denitrifies the water, according to Iowa Soybean Association Environmental Scientist Keegan Kult, who led implementation of the Bravards’ bioreactor in 2008 on an unnamed tributary of West Buttrick Creek, which is part of the Raccoon River Watershed.

Figure courtesy Dordt College
Bioreactor figure courtesy Dordt College

Kult explained its workings to the governor, noting the Bravards’ was one of the state’s first field-scale bioreactors, treating about 20 percent of of the peak flow draining from 50 acres for four to six hours. It was created in partnership with the commodity group called Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance and the Sand County Association in Wisconsin.

Todd Sutphin, Iowa Soybean Association environmental programs operations manager, told Branstad about nearby wetland and oxbow restorations that further reduce the nitrate load in the Raccoon River Watershed.

Branstad took time to greet many of the attendees, including Tom and georgia Vincent of rural Perry. After about 30 minutes, the governor left for the next event on his Monday agenda, a teacher leadership tour in Spencer.

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