Women Landowners Must Be Part of Conservation and Water Quality Conversations

Please join us for the Iowa Learning Farms webinar at noon CST, Wednesday, Dec. 7, featuring Wendong Zhang, assistant professor, Dyson School of Applied Economics, Cornell University. Zhang conducts research and extension programs regarding the U.S. farmland market, agricultural water quality initiatives and Chinese agricultural practices. His survey of women landowners in Iowa provides numerous insights into conservation practice priorities among a group owning nearly half of the farmland in Iowa.

In the webinar, “What Women Landowners Want to Know About Conservation,” Zhang will draw on the responses to a 2021 survey to illustrate which conservation topics owner-operator and absentee landowners care about. He will also share the findings regarding preferences for how, where and when to receive educational programming on conservation topics. Additionally, Zhang will discuss the importance of including women landowners in extension programming and agricultural data collection and the current underrepresentation and under participation of this influential group that is affecting conservation practice adoption.

“We have found that different approaches to outreach and education of landowners are necessary to meet the needs and preferences that are somewhat dependent on age and whether a landowner operates the farm or not,” said Zhang. “For all landowners, and most particularly for women landowners, our survey results indicate that the best approach is a mixed-mode which encompasses newsletters, e-newsletters, webinars, and in-person educational meetings offered at a variety of times.”

Webinar participants are encouraged to ask questions of the presenters. People from all backgrounds and areas of interest are encouraged to join.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before noon CST Dec. 7:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

Or go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172

Or join from a dial-in phone line:

Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/webinars For a list of upcoming webinars visit https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/events-1

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for. Those who participate in the live webinar are eligible. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Exploring Water Quality trends in the Upper Mississippi

This week Iowa Learning Farms welcomed Lauren Salvato, policy, and programs director, Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA). Salvato has been with UMRBA since 2018, and has focused her work on water resources and policy in natural resource management efforts. 

Throughout the webinar Salvato discussed the progress as well as the concerns with water quality in the region. Generally it was noted water quality between 1989 and 2018 had improved, but Salvato did highlight the top pollutants of concern that have shown varying trends throughout the years. Below are the different survey sites for the study.

The data shared indicated a decrease in legacy heavy metals, sediment and phosphorus. This finding shows that public and private investments in managing water quality have been beneficial and effective. Some of the long term ecological trends have shown there is more water, more of the time. The fish community remains resilient in their environment but they face new and ongoing stressors.

Salvato has mentioned that there has been an increase in nitrogen, chloride and some emerging pollutants of concern. Below are the different items that were tracked and studied, and all results were shared by Salvato in the webinar!

To learn more about the recommendations from Salvato and UMRBA, check out this week’s webinar!

-Hannah Preston

Join Us for a Virtual Field Day December 8 on Drainage Water Recycling

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day discussing drainage water recycling on December 8 at 1 p.m. CT. Join us for a live discussion with Matt Helmers, Iowa Nutrient Research Center Director, Chris Hay, Iowa Soybean Association Senior Research Scientist, Shane Wulf, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Environmental Specialist Senior, and Mark Schleisman, Calhoun County farmer and landowner.

Drainage water recycling (DWR) is a drainage management system designed to capture water during wet periods so it can be used later when growing crops are thirsty. Versions of DWR have been around for years, but adoption has remained limited. Now, interest is growing as the practice is recognized for its potential to improve water quality and help farmers reduce risks from weather volatility. 

Chris Hay, left, and Matt Helmers visit the drainage water recycling site at Mark Schleisman’s farm near Lake City, Iowa.

During this virtual field day, attendees will have a chance to get a closer look at new installations being used to collect in-field data on the performance of these systems. These sites are being studied as part of a research project led by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and the Iowa Soybean Association analyzing drainage water recycling’s costs and benefits, with funding from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and the EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Division. 

“Too much rain or not enough rain are two of the biggest problems for Iowa crops most years,” said Chris Hay. “Drainage water recycling can help farmers address these challenges. Research — mostly done in other states — shows it can boost yields by up to 50% for corn and 30% for soybeans. Our early work modeling it here in Iowa also shows potential for significant yield gains, especially in dry years, and the system can also benefit water quality and wildlife. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to predict what farmers can expect in terms of return on investment.”

Virtual Field Day Access Instructions:

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CT on December 8 to learn more, click this URL: https://iastate.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUpduihpj8iE9ZHcjpsenc2DWQILG41wg0D or visit https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/events-1  and click “Join Live Virtual Field Day”.

 Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

Dial: +1 646 876 9923 or +1 301 715 8592

Meeting ID: 945 3331 7620

The field day will be recorded and archived on the ILF website so that it can be watched at any time. The archive will be available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/virtual-field-day-archive.

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU). Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.

Liz Ripley

Small Footprint, Big Impact

wet·land: areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season and that provide ecological benefits for water quality, water storage and wildlife habitat.

Despite the persistent drought preventing flow over the weir, there was still water available for waterfowl and other creatures, including the landowner’s dog Murph, to enjoy during our field day in Keokuk County in partnership with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Constructed in 2019, the wetland features a 4.5 acre pool treating a drainage area of 683 acres. Even with a relatively small footprint, the site has the potential to remove 40-70% of the nitrate from the water flowing through it – that is the equivalent nitrate removal of retiring 321 to 562 row cropped acres!

In addition to the wetland, Denny and Sharon Lyle utilize cover crops and no-till on their land to reduce soil erosion, improve infiltration and build organic matter. As they have incorporated new conservation practices on their farm, the Lyles’ have worked with their local Soil and Water Conservation District, NRCS, and IDALS for both technical and financial support.

Curious if a wetland or other conservation practice could work on your farm?

Good news – there are easy-to-follow decision tools in the newly updated, free Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual. Also, be sure to check out our wetland virtual field day, reach out to your local NRCS office, and visit www.cleanwateriowa.org.

Liz Ripley

Farming Outside the Silo

Iowa Learning Farms farmer partners AJ and Kellie Blair, Webster County, are committed to leaving a legacy of conservation. As fourth-generation farmers, the Blairs are constantly looking for new ways to advance conservation while remaining profitable in Iowa. They stressed that systems and mindsets need to change with new understanding of science-based best management practices and that farmers’ comfort zones need to be expanded to stay productive (and environmentally sound) for years to come.

Kellie and AJ in front of a field where they graze cattle.

After graduating from Iowa State University in 2004, AJ started working alongside his dad on the farm, and Kellie after graduating from ISU worked in various agriculture spaces until she transitioned to farming full-time with her husband in 2017. Their conservation mentality is visible in their extended rotation of corn, soybeans, alfalfa hay, and oats and use non-GMO soybeans to help break up the weed cycle. Additionally, they use cover crops before all their no-till soybeans and both strip-till and no-till before corn. The Blairs raise beef cattle and sell direct to consumers as well as custom finish beef cattle for other farmers.

The Blairs feed their own beef cattle and custom finish beef cattle.

AJ and Kellie point to the different partnerships that have helped them be successful. For instance, Practical Farmers of Iowa was a good support network when they first started farming oats. In fact, networking with people and being able to gain knowledge or share in the risk associated with farming new practices has helped the Blairs farm successfully.

Landowners are another important partnership and they stressed that both landowners and operators need to be invested in the land. “It can be hard for landowners to see the long-term vision (and take risks) when most rely on the fixed income they receive from the land,” said Kellie.

“Right now,” AJ added, “we’re updating 100-year-old tiling systems. It’s a short-term cost, but somebody has to bear it. Ideally, those updated systems will last for three new generations of farmers on those fields.” It takes good relationships and communication to show the landowners the benefits and long-term value of upgrading the old tiling systems.

Soybean field with windmills in the distance.

The Blairs’ partnerships even extend to participating in research projects and allowing data collection at tile outlets in their fields. Recently, they’ve been involved with a drainage water recycling project with the Iowa Soybean Association, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Environmental Protection Agency. What the Blairs like about the project is that tile water is collected in a pond to be used later for irrigating fields and that the nutrients in the water can be used by the growing plants.

AJ considers time as a big challenge for farmers in Iowa, especially when thinking about adding new practices. “Most farmers I know are worried about their current workloads and have difficulty imagining adding a new crop or implementing a new practice,” said AJ. Growth and change are essential to agriculture in Iowa, not only to make more money but to farm in environmentally sound ways. Perhaps it is difficult to admit that farming practices need to change.

“Take pride in what you have and what’s been done,” said AJ.

Kellie added, “But it all comes down to the humility of knowing we can always do a little better.”

Barn on the Blair farm.

Alena Whitaker

Water Quality Trends on the Upper Mississippi River

Please join us for the Iowa Learning Farms webinar at noon CST, Wednesday, Nov. 30, featuring Lauren Salvato, policy and programs director, Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA). Salvato has been with UMBRA since 2018, where she focuses her work on water resources and policy in natural resource management efforts. Her work also includes clean water and ecosystem restoration initiatives.

In the webinar, “Water Quality Trends on the Upper Mississippi River, 1989-2018,” Salvato will discuss both positive and negative trends in water quality that impact all users in the region. She will make note of general improvements in water quality during the study period but will also highlight different pollutants of concern that have shown varying trends. Salvato will share data indicating decreases in legacy heavy metals, sediment and phosphorus, which show that public and private investments in managing water quality have been beneficial and effective. She will also cover data showing increases in nitrogen, chloride, and contemporary or emerging pollutants of concern, a problem that will require a collaborative approach among five states to address effectively.

“The Upper Mississippi River Basin is a nationally significant economic, environmental, social, and cultural resource that requires balanced, integrated, and collaborative management approaches to address water quality issues,” said Salvato. “The research presented in this webinar and ongoing activities and research can provide valuable insights for all stakeholders as well as those in the region tasked with managing this crucial resource.”

Webinar participants are encouraged to ask questions of the presenters. People from all backgrounds and areas of interest are encouraged to join.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before noon CST Nov. 30:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

Or go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172

Or join from a dial-in phone line:

Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/webinars For a list of upcoming webinars visit https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/events-1

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for. Those who participate in the live webinar are eligible. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Imagining Nature and Humanity’s Relationship to It

What is a healthy river?
Can you—can we—imagine a healthy river in Iowa?
How can tools like imagination help address today’s environmental challenges?

These questions are at the heart of the most recent Iowa Learning Farms webinar, Can We Imagine a Healthy River in Iowa?, presented by ILF director and anthropologist Jacqueline Comito.  It’s a thought-provoking look at the interconnections between imagination, creativity, human behavior, nature and culture.


This most recent webinar is part of an ongoing series by Comito, now three years running, exploring the tools that can help (re)focus our perspectives when considering the challenges we face related to water quality, soil health, biodiversity, and climate change. Previous webinars in her series have addressed awe, gratitude, revision, and hope:

Can Moments of Awe and Gratitude Improve the Environment? (2020)
Can Revision and Hope Improve the Environment? (2021)

Comito’s presentation interweaves the science of imagination with preliminary results of a recent study looking at college student perspectives on water issues in Iowa. Featuring the voices of college students from our three public universities, gathered via online survey and in-person video interviews, this study sheds light on how college students across the state feel about their drinking water, surface water bodies—rivers, lakes, and streams nearby, and factors influencing water quality.


Building on the writings of Lawrence Buell, Stephen T. Asma, and others, Comito emphasizes that one of the keys to addressing today’s environmental challenges is finding better ways of imagining nature and humanity’s relationship to it. Harnessing the power of imagination, Comito challenges all of us to be people that actively imagine the future the way we want it—and in imagining it, we collectively can move toward it.

How do we do that—how do we release our imagining? No spoilers here. You’ll have to tune in to the full webinar—Can We Imagine a Healthy River in Iowa?—for 8 action items that can help us all better harness our imagination, attention, and embrace the creativity that emerges!

Ann Staudt

Can We Imagine Cleaner Waterways, and How Can it Help?

Please join us for the Iowa Learning Farms webinar at noon CST, Wednesday, Nov. 23, featuring Jacqueline Comito, anthropologist and director of Iowa Learning Farms at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Comito is actively involved in extension and outreach activities in the areas of water, watershed-based community activities, natural resources, and environmental attitudes and behaviors. She regularly interacts with stakeholders including farmers, interested citizens, teachers, college students, youth, environmental groups and agency personnel.

In the webinar, “Can We Imagine a Healthy River in Iowa?,” Comito will continue the conversation from her November 2020 and 2021 webinars that looked at spiritual and cultural means of inspiring people to make changes for the good of the planet. In this session, she will draw on insights gathered from university students during a recent survey and round of interviews to focus on the science of imagination. Elevating the voices of some 2800 survey respondents and 60 who were interviewed in person, she will speak about how imagination could be integrated into environmental work and engage the audience in discussing concrete steps each can take to tap their imagination for change. Comito will also highlight the generational challenge of helping young people imagine healthy waterways when they have never experienced anything but the currently compromised ecosystems they have grown up with.

“It isn’t often in environmental circles that we are asked to engage our imaginations in terms of what we hope to see,” said Comito. “The survey and conversations with these college students made it clear that there is interest in the environment and natural surroundings, but it is important to inspire them to begin to think differently about the world around them. We should be empowering and challenging them to use their imaginations to change the world—even when it seems like real change is elusive.”

Iowa Learning Farms is an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach conservation and water quality education program.

Webinar participants are encouraged to ask questions of the presenters. People from all backgrounds and areas of interest are encouraged to join.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before noon CST Nov. 23:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

Or go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172

Or join from a dial-in phone line:

Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/webinars For a list of upcoming webinars visit https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/events-1

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for. Those who participate in the live webinar are eligible. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

How Full is Your Plate?

Do you work with farmers in your job or are you related to one? How do you talk to them about their stress? 

In the most recent webinar, Sometimes the Shield is Not Enough, Sarah Noggle, from The Ohio State University talked about mental health for farmers. Stress for farmers looks different from stress in other professions for many reasons. There is little separation between work and family, rural mental health resources can be lacking or absent, and farmers can feel a need to hold onto the family land and legacy.

 

Stress can be good; we need to have enough on our plates to maintain peak performance. But much like a paper plate at a potluck, there is a breaking point. Noggle asks that you all think about your own plates. What is causing you stress? How much of that do you actually have control over?  

I think this webinar has great tips for anyone dealing with stress and wants some great tips. Noggle included many resources in her webinar including links to mental health trainings. Below are some additional resources from Iowa State University. The Mental Health and Addiction Crisis phone number is now 988.  

Alena Whitaker

Looking to Cut Costs – Consider Strip-Tilling


Tom Vaske is no stranger to innovation on his farm near Masonville. He returned to the family farm in 1993 after college and struck out on his own in 2001. It was in that year that completed the project of converting an old planter into a strip-till machine.

As one of the first Iowa Learning Farms farmer partners back in 2005, Tom set up demonstration trials to examine the corn response to strip-tillage compared to full-width tillage. It didn’t take long for Tom to make the change to all strip-till for his corn acres. In 2008, he purchased his current strip-till equipment to more efficiently cover his acres each fall.

His advice at a field day he recently hosted to those considering strip-till, but not ready to make the investment:

“Find someone to strip-till 20-40 acres for you to try it out. See how it works for yourself. There are tremendous fuel savings with strip-till compared to a traditional tillage system. We have been able to cut our fertilizer by about 1/3 and have maintained yields.”

About six years ago, Tom again set up trials on his farm. This time for cover crops and now seeds about 700 acres each year with cereal rye. He has an air seeder equipped on his verticle tillage equipment and with weekend help from his sons and wife, he seeds the rye after harvest and then follows with the strip-till machine for the fields heading into corn the next year.

While the weather Thursday was too blustery to head out to the field, we have three more field days coming up in the next two weeks and the forecast looks to be warmer! You can find more about those upcoming event events here and RSVP to ilf@iastate.edu today.

Liz Ripley