2021 Woodchip Bioreactor Partnership
True to form, the Woodchip Bioreactor Partnership completed installation of it’s fourth woodchip bioreactor, since it’s inception in 2017, on August 14 in McDonough County on the Hunt Farm. Over two years in the making, the practice implementation was plagued with delays and price increases caused by mother nature, COVID 19, and additional onsite resource concerns.
In early 2019, Illinois LICA, in partnership with Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the University of Illinois College of Aces, began exploring potential woodchip bioreactor sites on the Hunt Farm. As is often the case, one of the producer’s preferred practice locations was in a field that already had a portion of non-cropped acreage that required some general maintenance. The area contained what appeared to be an old, silted in pond with a failed overflow structure and numerous subsurface drainage outlets upstream. While feasible in terms of the contributing subsurface drainage area, installing a woodchip bioreactor upstream of the pond and the rusted-out overflow pipe, which provided erosion control for decades for the nearly 10 feet of overfall, would certainly prove to be an unwise investment in a very short period of time. Additionally, given the watershed topography and the location of multiple “day-lighted” tile outlets into the pond, it became clear that only a grade stabilization type structure could feasibly be utilized to replace the failed pond, and woodchip bioreactors are primarily subsurface drainage practices by design.
Many conference calls and discussions later, the Hunt family and the Woodchip Bioreactor Partnership ultimately settled in on said site under the condition that the failed pond and subsequent resource concern would be addressed prior to a woodchip bioreactor installation upstream to ensure a stable outlet downstream of the practice. After exploring a number of possible practice options with the landowners, the local NRCS staff immediately went to work on designing a large tube & riser pipe drop structure (36” & 48” diameter, respectively) with a 15’ x 60’ woodchip bioreactor upstream for the landowner and partners. From there, timelines were established between all parties in hopes of completing the edge of field practice installation in the fall of 2019 after the pond removal and the tube & riser installation by the landowners.
Poor site working conditions, weather, and COVID-impacted schedules hindered the tube & riser construction efforts into 2020, though initial progress was made in draining the pond and improving the overall site conditions for construction by the landowners. Ultimately, as the construction efforts stretched on into late 2020 in preparation for the woodchip bioreactor partnership installation, Illinois LICA approached the partners and landowners about completing the entirety of the remaining project (i.e. tube & riser + bioreactor) in summer of 2021. In March 2021, amidst ever-increasing material prices, a collective agreement was reached with all parties regarding Illinois LICA’s proposal and project pricing.
On August 9, the Association broke ground on the project with the help of its Associate members and a core group of volunteer contractors. Through heat advisories and a few rain delays, Illinois LICA was able to wrap up both practice installations by the following Saturday, August 14. Due to the extended project delays and already full field day calendars for 2021, the Woodchip Bioreactor Partnership did not host an open-to-the-public event during construction but will instead be scheduling a field day in 2022 to highlight the edge of field practice and preliminary research on the site.
Illinois LICA would like to thank the dedication and hard work of all those that guided this extended project to completion including the Woodchip Bioreactor Partnership, the Hunt Family, Grant Curtis, K.T. Woodford, Shawn Stigall, Brian Brooks & Crew, Jon Seevers, Joe Streitmatter, David Kennedy, Steve Anderson, Eric Layden, Tom Beyers, Bill Dean & Crew, Wayne Litwiller, and Wes Litwiller. We would also like to thank our Associate members that supported us and our partners with equipment and materials including Agri Drain Corp., Xylem, Sunbelt Rentals, Martin Equipment, Bradford Supply Co., and Springfield Plastics.