Farm Talk


September 5, 2013

KSU students help reduce nitrate levels in Kansas soil

Parsons, Kansas — Kansas State University students are helping protect the environment and reduce public health risks.

Students across academic disciplines will monitor a two-acre site in Sylvan Grove in north central Kansas after former students cleaned nitrate contamination from soil and groundwater. They characterized the extent of contamination and developed remediation plans.

Students in agronomy, biology, engineering, geography and geology joined forces as part of course projects in Water Resource Geochemistry, or GEOL 711; Introduction to Geochemistry, or GEOL 605; and Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences Capstone, or DAS/DEN/GENAG 582.

"We found high levels of nitrate, which is commonly used in fertilizer," said Nathan Nelson, associate professor of agronomy. "Nitrate supplies an essential nutrient — nitrogen — to plants and is important for food production, but too much nitrate in water can have an adverse effect on humans, animals and the environment."

High nitrate levels in drinking water can cause methemoglobinemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants younger than six months. Commonly called blue baby syndrome, the disorder limits how much oxygen infants pass through their blood. Rain can leach nitrates from soil to groundwater.

It's unclear how the Sylvan Grove site became contaminated. The site, which houses a grain elevator today, once stored dry and liquid fertilizer. Manure from local feed yards also produces nitrate, which can contaminate the groundwater.

Students worked with environmental lawyer Chris Steincamp, a Kansas State University geology alumnus; landowners; and officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to characterize contamination on the site, identify potential sources of contamination and develop a plan to clean the site.

"Students followed the professional standards of a real government agency," said Saugata Datta, associate professor of geology. "They worked with clients and state officials to complete a successful project in a limited amount of time. The rate of turnaround by our students was simply amazing during this exciting, hands-on experience."

Geology students, under the direction of Datta, performed the latest water isotope analysis to track the possible sources of nitrates at the Sylvan Grove site.

Students collected soil and groundwater samples, determining that the best method to clean the site would be through phytoremediation, which uses plants to remove contaminants and reduce their mobility. They recommended removal of the most highly contaminated soil for use as a fertilizer on nearby cropland. Native grasses and trees helped remove remaining nitrate.

"Students selected grass and tree species that need a lot of nitrogen and water," Nelson said. "This protects the groundwater by removing nitrate and by reducing the amount of water that can leach nitrate out of the soil."

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment approved a remediation alternative that students recently implemented.

"It's exciting to see the students' ideas taking shape on the landscape and improve the Kansas environment," Nelson said. "It's not often that students get to participate in a project that has such real impact."

Nelson and Datta said they received positive reviews about the project from students.

"Students found the project difficult and complex because they had to work within real-world constraints," Nelson said, "but they enjoyed the challenge and they're often highlighting this experience on their resumes. They had an opportunity to show leadership, work together and get results."

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Wichita-based law firm of Depew Gillen Rathbun & McInteer provided project and student support. £

Text Only
  • wheat_freeze_lodging.jpg Freeze could damage some Kan. wheat

    The hard freeze throughout Kansas in the early morning hours of April 15, could cause some damage to wheat, said Jim Shroyer, K-State Research and Extension crop production specialist. Wheat in the jointing stage is most at risk, he said.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • cornplantlatemay2.jpg WASDE report eases low crop price fears

    USDA’s April 9 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates continued a series of recent reports that have offered corn and soybean producers a more optimistic grain-price outlook than what was expected for most of the winter, Purdue Extension agricultural economist Chris Hurt says.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • USDA: Corn acres expected to drop 4%

    The amount of American cropland devoted to corn is expected to shrink about 4 percent this year as farmers devote more acres to soybeans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week.

    April 8, 2014

  • Bt-resistant rootworms ID’d in five states

    Researchers say bugs are developing resistance to the widely popular genetically engineered corn plants that make their own insecticide, so farmers may have to make changes.

    April 1, 2014

  • MU economist: Corn, bean price volatility next 5 years

    Expect volatility in the soybean and corn markets over the next five years, said Pat Westhoff, director of the University of Missouri Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (MU FAPRI).
    Look for corn prices to drop to $4 per bushel and soybean to $10 per bushel on average for the next five years, he said.

    March 25, 2014

  • marestail.jpg Plan now to control marestail in soybeans

    Controlling marestail in soybeans has been a big challenge for Kansas no-till producers in recent years.
    Because soybeans are generally planted later in the season, and marestail generally germinates in the fall or early spring, application timing and weed size are critical factors to successful control.

    March 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Checking alfalfa for winter injury

    In the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard many concerns about alfalfa production for this spring.
    Cold temperatures and lack of snow cover are the two main issues producers are worried about for next season’s crop production, as certainly the alfalfa plant could die if exposed to extremely cold temperatures. In general, alfalfa plants can tolerate up to three weeks of winter injury before the plants are killed.

    March 11, 2014

  • soypods.jpg USDA reports on status of GE crops

    Genetically engineered (GE) varieties with pest management traits became commercially available for major crops in 1996.
    More than 15 years later, adoption of these varieties by U.S. farmers is widespread and U.S. consumers eat many products derived from GE crops — including corn-meal, oils, and sugars — largely unaware that these products were derived from GE crops.

    March 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • wheat-head.jpg Everest still leads Kan. wheat acres

    For the second year in a row, a variety of wheat developed by Kansas State University, is the leading variety in Kansas.

    February 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • RickReimer.jpg Innovation, exports fuel soybean demand

    Brent Hayek is revved up about potential new uses for soybeans, and he is piling up the miles to share his enthusiasm.

    February 18, 2014 2 Photos

Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Seasonal Content