Hometown Farmer: Nitrate Study

For the last five years Professor Rob De Haan has been studying soil around Sioux Center, trying to find the best way to soak up nitrates.When farmers put fertilizer on their fields, a lot of the time, crops don't soak up all of the nitrates contained within.Those nitrates could sink lower into the ground and up in the ground water.De Haan's been trying to figure out which crops do the best job of soaking those nitrates up.He's been testing different types of crops and crop rotations, and measuring the amount of nitrates still in the soil after they're harvested.One of his first theories involved planting corn and limiting the amount of nitrogen put on the field.But that didn't work very well."We lost more nitrogen from that system than I thought we would," said De Haan.He says corn and soybeans just aren't that good at sponging up extra nitrogen. If that's what you want to do, alfalfa is your best bet."You have low nitrogen levels throughout the whole soil profile," said De Haan. "Very little risk."But, if a constant alfalfa crop isn't an option for your operation, De Haan says cover crops can help."A cover crop can help keep the nitrates up in the top of the soil profile," said De Haan. "That could be something a farmer using a corn-soybean rotation could look at."If you know of any farmers you think would be great on "Proud to be a Hometown Farmer," please email Jake at: