Miscanthus: New Player Emerging In Iowa Agriculture

Mxg Black Hills AG

Miscanthus x giganteus is a sterile hybrid of the plant that cannot reproduce from seed and spreads slowly. Photo from plots at Black Hills Ag.

Miscanthus is a towering perennial grass that has the potential to be an important player in Iowa agriculture.  Emily Heaton, ISU assistant professor of agronomy, and Nicholas Boersma, ISU assistant scientist in agronomy, recently published a paper highlighting the performance of Miscanthus x giganteus as a source of biomass for energy and a tool for protecting soil health.

For more information about Heaton’s work with miscanthus read the article “ISU agronomist says miscanthus would yield more biomass than originally thought in Iowa soil.”

Visit the website University of Iowa’s Miscanthus Pilot Project for more information.


To learn more about miscanthus, attend our upcoming field day:

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 5:30-7:30 pm
Bio-Renewables Field Day at the University of Iowa (UI) Miscanthus test plot

3590 Highway 1 SW, Iowa City. The site is a half-mile west of Menards.

Join landowner Dan Black and ISU assistant professor of agronomy Emily Heaton at this field day as they discuss the University of Iowa’s Miscanthus Pilot Project. The project is exploring the use of this grass as a biofuel on the UI campus. Ben Anderson, with the UI Power Plant, will explain how miscanthus is being used in their solid fuel boilers. Enjoy a meal prepared by the Johnson County Cattlemen.

- Liz Juchems

Great turnout for the first of ILF fall field days

IMG_3206On Tuesday, August 19, over 100 area farmers attended an Iowa Learning Farms field day near Klemme.  Host Dean Stromer, and his son Will, spoke about their motivation for using strip-till and other conservation practices.

“My grandson here and my other grandchildren, who had their first day of school today, are one of the important reasons why I want to take care of my land.”  Stromer understands the importance of protecting the soil not only for his continued use, but for the use of future generations who may continue the tradition of farming.

Also speaking at the field day were Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Butler County farmer and ILF farmer partner Rick Juchems.  The Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa Soybean Association helped sponsor the wonderful meal.

Local news station KIMT was also in attendance and has a great story about the field day, available here.

There are four upcoming field days in September, be sure to check them out.

Tuesday, September 9: Cover Crops and Prairie Strips, Seth Watkins Farm, Taylor County, 5-7pm

Wednesday, September 10: Biomass Production for Biorenewable Energy with the University Of Iowa, Dan Black Farm, Johnson County, 5:30-7:30pm

Friday, September 12: Cover Crops with Iowa Farm Bureau, Titan Machinery at Williams, Hamilton County, 10:30am-12:30pm

Wednesday, September 17: Cover Crop and No-till Alfalfa Following Winter Wheat, Dennis Lundy Farm, Adair County, 12-2pm

- Liz Juchems

ILF Farmer Partners honored at State Fair

For the third consecutive year, Gov. Branstad, Iowa Sec. of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp recognized farm families with the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award at the Iowa State Fair. This year 88 families were honored and nine are ILF farmer partners.

The Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award recognizes farm families who are committed to healthy soils and improved water quality. In the news release announcing the honorees, Sec. Northey states, “Iowa is a national leader in conservation and water quality efforts and it is important that we recognize the farmers who are making a significant investment in conservation efforts and serving as example in how we can continue to better care for our air, soil and water.”

Congratulations to all!

Dennis and Steve Berger

Dennis and Steve Berger, Washington Co.

Randy (not pictured), Merritt and Janalee Caviness

Randy (not pictured), Merritt and Janalee Caviness, Adair Co.

Mike Hermanson family

Hermanson family – Woodland Farms, Inc., Story Co.

Stanley and Barbara Johnson

Stanley and Barbara Johnson, Page Co.

Tim Palmer family

Tim Palmer family, Madison, Clarke & Warren Co.

Chad and Ryan Pontier

Chad and Ryan Pontier, Clarke & Madison Co.

Steve and George (not pictured) Schaefer

Steve and George (not pictured) Schaefer, Washington Co.

Neil Vonnahme

Neil Vonnahme, Carroll & Sac Co.

Seth, Christy, Tatum & Spencer Watkins

Seth Watkins family-Pinhook Farm, Page, Taylor & Adams Co.

-Carol Brown

Cover Crops and Vegetable Production – August Webinar

If you missed tuning into the live webinar today – don’t worry!  You can watch the entire webinar now archived on our website here.

Ajay Nair


Dr. Ajay Nair with Iowa State University (ISU) Department of Horticulture discussed incorporating cover crops into any sized vegetable production system.  Many of the benefits of cover crops in a corn/soybean operation, such as reduced soil erosion and nutrient management, can be achieved in vegetable production and with a greater variety of cover crops to choose from.  Dr. Nair explains which cover crops are best suited prior to late season vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers, which are best following early harvested vegetables like lettuce and onion, as well as those that can be used in the off-season.  He also addresses cover crop management and challenges that may arise.

Be sure to tune in next month on September 17th at 11:30am for Dr. Tom Isenhart presenting on streambank stabilization and buffers.

- Liz Juchems

New Soil Fertility PSA Released

The Water Rocks! team has just released a new public service announcement tying together soil fertility, nutrient management, variable rate technology and precision agriculture.    This video is part of the award-winning “I Am An Iowan” series, recognized by the Iowa Motion Picture Association as a 2014 winner for Educational Production.

Visit the Water Rocks! website to view Variable Rate Technology in its entirety.  This humorous piece is not to be missed!




-Ann Staudt

Pollinators in the Press

Honey bees and other pollinators have received much media attention in the past week.  Here are a few of the recent news stories:

Mary Harris, Professor of Entomology and Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State University, was featured on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River program last week.   The discussion was centered around a recently-released study investigating a particular class of insecticides called neonicotinoids found in Iowa waterways, along with the impacts on bees and other invertebrates.  Listen to the program on Iowa Public Radio’s website at Toxic Pesticide That Affects Honeybees Found in Iowa Waterways.

Mary Harris is interviewed

Mary Harris is interviewed by Conservation Pack member Stewy for an upcoming “Adventures of the Conservation Pack” video episode.  Harris helps Stewy learn about honey bees and other pollinators, and their very important role in biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Also on the topic of pollinators, Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames is participating in the international Operation Pollinator project, aimed at developing sustainable, native habitat for pollinator species.  Read more at New Attraction Developed for Veenker.

-Ann Staudt

How does your grass grow?

For many years, even decades, the norm has been to skim off topsoil from new construction sites, leaving landowners with yards composed largely of clay.  Current Iowa regulations,  enacted in 2012, require that builders return 4 inches of topsoil — in areas where there was at least 4 inches of topsoil in the first place —on tracts of an acre or more in certain Iowa cities, with the goals of reducing stormwater runoff and flooding.

The regulation has been under debate and has received much media attention, as summarized in the Quad-Cities Times and Cedar Rapids Gazette.

When presenting to the Advisory Board for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture back in June, Iowa Learning Farms program managers Jackie Comito and Matt Helmers were approached with a question of whether we could create two trays for our Conservation Station Rainfall Simulator, demonstating side-by-side one lawn with 4” of topsoil returned, and a second lawn with only the compacted clay layer.

Newly-created sod trays in June 2014 (C=Clay, T=Topsoil). Pictured below are the soils used to create each respective tray.

Student intern Lance Henrichs was tasked with creating the two trays in mid-June, one with a topsoil base and the second with a clay/sand base.  He then rolled pieces of sod on top of each one.  Henrichs observed, “The first time I put them in the Simulator, the top soil tray had much more infiltration than the clay-based tray.”

Fast forward two months, and the differences between the two trays are even more stark.   The quality of grass is very different between the two trays.   Ask any landowner who lives in an area where the topsoil was removed, and they’ll confirm that growing grass or a garden on clay alone is pretty tough!   The tray with topsoil also allows for water to infiltrate, while the compacted clay layer does not allow for any infiltration, forcing all rain water to run directly off the surface of the land.

Come see it for yourself at the Iowa State Fair!    Visit us in Farm Bureau Park, just off the Grand Concourse, from 9:30 – 5:00pm every day this week (9:30am – 2:00pm on Sunday).

-Ann Staudt

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