December Webinar Recap: Ingrid Gronstal Anderson

Ingrid and colleague standing in UI miscanthus plot near Iowa City.

Ingrid and colleague standing in UI miscanthus plot near Iowa City.

The final webinar for 2014 featured Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, an environmental compliance specialist with Facilities Management–Utilities and Energy Management at the University of Iowa (UI).  Anderson discussed their exploration of biomass fuel sources as part of the UI’s goal to obtain 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

This effort includes a project to plant 2,500 acres of miscanthus grass for use as a fuel in the UI main power plant.  Changing fuel sources with the existing infrastructure is not without  challenges including maintaining fuel source moisture, shape and size.

Check out the archived version of the webinar here to learn more about the UI renewable energy goal and how they plan to achieve it.


Save the date to tune into for our January webinar featuring Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture on Tuesday, January 27th at 4pm.

- Liz Juchems

Raise Your Glass…


Happy 40th Anniversary to the Safe Drinking Water Act!  Originally passed on December 16, 1974, this legislation offers protection for millions of people by establishing national standards for drinking water quality for public water systems across the USA.

Raise a clean glass of water today in celebration!

-Ann Staudt

Top 10 Webinars #6: Biochar’s Contribution to Sustainable Bioenergy Production

March 2012 Screenshot

Today, the Top 10 Most-Watched Webinars series presents “Biochar’s Contribution to Sustainable Bioenergy Production,” hosted by David Laird, a professor in the agronomy department at Iowa State University. Here’s my preview:

1. When farmers harvest residue for biofuel production, they are promised short-term gains (sales, temporary yield increases), but they also face the prospect of long-term losses (degraded soil quality, reduced agricultural productivity).

2. If residue is harvested, biochar can help maintain soil quality by putting lost nutrients back in.

3. So, the pyrolysis-biochar platform may help make residue harvesting more sustainable.

Watch the full webinar here.

- Alex Kirstukas

Grazing cover crops: Tim Palmer offers tips

   Tim Palmer, ILF farmer partner from Madison County, hosted a great field day in late November and shared some great information about how he uses cover crops in his operation.

Tim PalmerQ. Tell us a little bit about you and your farm.

A. I have farmed in Madison, Clarke and Warren Counties for 40 years, managing 800 acres of row crops in corn and soybean rotation. I also have a 120 cow/calf operation with finishing. I am active in soil and water conservation on many levels, serving as a Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner, State Soil Conservation Committee–South Central Region representative, North Central Region executive board member for the National Association of Conservation Districts. I also serve as director for Madison County Farm Bureau.

Q. How many years have you been using cover crops? How many acres did you plant this year?

A. I’ve been using cover crops for two years, fall of 2013 was the first year. I planted about 170 acres in this fall.

Q. What motivated you to add cover crops to your operation?

A. Cover crops have many benefits for soil health and protection, but I was most interested in finding a way to extend my forage supplies for the cattle by grazing the cover crops. Cover crops have tremendous feed value for livestock. I am also in the early stages of determining the potential as forage.

Q. What varieties of cover crops have you used?

A. Triticale for grazing and baling, but also radishes, oats, and winter wheat. We planted triticale in the fall of 2013 and left 10 acres that was going to soybeans. The plot yielded 65 bushels/ac.

Gowing Triticale for Seed

Tim standing in the triticale before it was harvested for cover crop seed.


Q. What methods have you used to plant your cover crop?

A. I drilled oats in late February 2014. They grew well that spring and were terminated with herbicide before planting corn. The triticale used for grazing was seeded at 75 lbs/ac in the last week of September by an airplane.

Mowing triticale

Mowing the triticale for forage.


Q.  When do you typically allow the cows to graze the cover crop?

A.  They are turned out when it starts to green up–maybe the first week of April. I hayed it by May 21st,  which was determined by last year’s haying crop insurance rules. I plan to graze more than haying it this spring. Last spring, 70 cow/calf pairs grazed on 15 acres for a month.


Q. What about termination of the cover crop?

A. The radishes and oats were killed with a frost. The winter wheat and triticale overwintered. Some of the triticale was harvested for seed and terminated naturally. The rest of the cover crops were also hayed and grazed and terminated with 1.5 quarts of glyphosate per acre.


Tim Palmer and Cow

Tim’s cows love the cover crops (and him)!


For more information about grazing cover crops and incorporating cover crops into your operation, check out the video below, which is one of the chapters in the  “Cover Crops: Farmer Perspectives” video. You can watch the entire video on our YouTube channel.


- Liz Juchems

Cover crop research in the news

Cover crops are growing in popularity in Iowa and the Midwest as a tool to help reduce the amount of nitrate and phosphorus leaving the fields, while protecting and improving soil.  Newly released cover crop research reports address the beneficial impacts on water quality and highlight improved soil health results. Take a few minutes and check out the reports below.

ILF Juchems 068Research reveals beneficial impact of cover crops on water quality in the Mississippi River Basin, from the Midwest Cover Crop Council. The team used modeling to estimate the potential for cover crop adoption across five states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota) and the resulting benefits on water quality through the decrease in nitrogen loss. Their results reveal that up to 19 million acres of corn and soybean ground have the potential to incorporate cover crops.  They estimate this would lead to decrease of nitrogen entering the Gulf of Mexico of up to 400 million pounds, valued at $160 million.


soil coreSoil organic carbon serves as the main source of energy for soil microorganisms and is often used as a meal of soil health.  A 12-year study conducted by the University of Illinois looked at the impact of cover crops on soil under three tillage scenarios: no-tillage, chisel plow and moldboard-plow.  The research showed a significant increase in sequestered carbon in all three tillage scenarios where cover crops were grown, but no-till reporting the largest increase of 30% high soil organic carbon stock. You can read the full report here.

- Liz Juchems

Celebrating World Soil Day – December 5, 2014

The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils with the goal of raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential eco-system functions.  To celebrate World Soil Day and the launch International Year of Soils, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is streaming the new documentary Symphony of the Soil for free from December 5-12th.


Check out the infographic below highlighting the importance of soil created by the Global Soil Partnership within the FAO in honor of World Soil Day 2014.

World Soil Day Infographic


- Liz Juchems

We’re Hiring a Music and Outreach Specialist!

Have an interest in the environment, conservation, and agriculture, particularly water and soil quality and a talent for music? Or know someone who does?


Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms are looking for an enthusiastic and self motivated individual with strong communication skills for our newest position: Music and Outreach Specialist!

As a member of our team you will have the opportunity to travel around Iowa participating in outreach and educational programming with the Conservation Station fleet and in the classroom.  Other responsibilities will include editing the Water Rocks! E-News and other media releases, developing music videos and other outreach/education materials. Additionally, you will help develop water-based education materials and assisting in web-based, social media communications activities to support program goals.


For more information about the position and how to apply click HERE.


Apply by January 9th for the opportunity to join the team on the campus of Iowa State University.



Water Rocks! is a statewide youth water education campaign that fosters the interplay of knowledge, caring and engagement among Iowa’s youth that can lead to long-term multigenerational transformation of all Iowans.



field_day_bloomfield_2013Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation, calling attention to the importance of improved water and soil quality through conservation farming practices.

- Liz Juchems

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