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RetaiN Test Kits
Farmers want to know how much nitrogen is leaving their fields through tile lines, but most water monitoring methods are expensive or time-consuming. An Iowa project called “retaiN” distributes simple water testing kits to landowners. There are 25 test strips per bottle which allows for weekly or bi-weekly testing, and after rain events during the growing season.
Jamie Benning is the water quality program manager at Iowa State University. She says the strips are dipped in water coming from the tile and in just 60-seconds, you’ll know how much nitrate and nitrite is in the water.
"With the kit they get a log book so as they go out and take those tests they can log their results over the course of a growing season and as we have rainfall fluctuations, and really see how is that impacting their nitrogen loss," says Benning. "At the end of a season or two, if they’re seeing values for nitrate concentration that are fairly high, that’s when we recommend let’s think about taking some additional steps, or talk about what options there are."
Benning says landowners are also using the kits to see if their conservation practices are effective.
"We’re seeing some as just confirmation that their cover crops are working like they’d like them to, and they’re able to monitor and see if their concentrations of nitrate are lower than some of the other sampling that they’ve done on other farms without cover crops," she says. "It’s been just that piece of information they needed to move forward and install a structural practice, so we’ve seen some installation of wetlands and bioreactors."
Benning says the first test kit is free, supported through grant funds, and after that it’s $39.
Learn more about the retaiN test kits and where to get them.