Extension Educator Taylor Becker focuses on informed decision-making to reduce nitrate leaching


Taylor skiing at Heavenly in Tahoe, CA with Lake Tahoe in the background

I joined the WRC as an Extension Educator focusing on agricultural water quality in March 2020, just after the work from home order began. Although starting a new job while working from home has certainly been a unique experience, I have been grateful to take this time to learn more about the intersection of agriculture and water quality in Minnesota through several different online resources, some of which I would not have been able to attend before the online programming shift!

My position is the result of a partnership between the University of Minnesota WRC and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) as part of the Groundwater Protection Rule. My primary role is to serve as an advisor to landowners and farmers that occupy areas of the central region of the state that have elevated nitrate levels in public drinking water supplies. I advise farmers and landowners in these areas about the Best Management Practices (BMPs) that will serve to mitigate nitrate losses from cropland and prevent nitrate levels from exceeding a healthy standard in drinking water. 

This year I have been working on developing more individualized tools that will be helpful for individuals to reduce nitrate losses off their land. I have been using soil type and land use data to generate spatially sensitive maps depicting intersections of land uses with soils sensitive to nitrate loss through leaching. I have also been working with the MDA and my colleague Greg Klinger to curate BMP lists that are equally specific, to better help landowners and farmers make informed decisions about which BMPs to employ on their land. Cropping systems and soil types are so unique and can vary from field to field. Farmers need to make countless decisions every day about their fields, decisions that can lead to different outcomes depending on factors like soil type, soil structure, climate, and rainfall, among many others. That is why I think it is so important to recognize that solutions to a nitrate leaching problem will be equally unique and dependent on the entire system.

Although I have been happy to explore the Minnesota landscape through GIS, I am looking forward to exploring more in-person (hopefully) soon!