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Field west of Park Rapids is site for nitrate leaching field study

A nitrate leaching field study is being conducted in a field west of Park Rapids as a way to evaluate nitrates within the wellhead protection area.

This study is a cooperative effort between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, city of Park Rapids, Becker Farms and R.D. Offutt Co.

A Park Rapids city well was closed last month due to high nitrate levels in the water, making the timing of this study appropriate. The high nitrate levels often are a result of fertilizer use on crops.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture water quality advisor Luke Stuewe is conducting the study in a field that is used to plant corn, edible beans and potatoes. The field is rotated each year.

He will be working with producers to look for ways that nitrogen losses might be minimized.

The field will be tested for three years, throughout the full rotation of crops. Rainfall and irrigation will also be monitored and recorded for the duration of the study.

"I think the data will be representative to other fields in the area," Stuewe said. "It should be consistent."

Stuewe uses suction-type lysimeters installed about 4 to 6 feet deep, which is below the roots of the crops. A pump is used to slowly pull soil moisture out for collection.

These samples will be taken for testing bi-weekly.

"For us, it's a good thing to study and producers too want to know what's going on under their fields," Stuewe said.

Stuewe has also started taking monthly samples of 23 wells in the Park Rapids area. Many citizens are voluntarily bringing in their well water for testing, he said.

A similar study was conducted in Perham that was very successful, he said. The Perham study started in the mid-90s.

Stuewe has already been working with RDO representatives to determine ways to reduce their use of fertilizers on potato crops.

Using a time-released fertilizer and deep tillage are some of the improvements being made. The producer is also trying out new varieties of potatoes.

Stuewe is optimistic that nitrogen levels can be reduced over time by examining the data and continuing efforts with producers in the area.