A Blue Ribbon Success!

The Iowa State Fair has officially come to a close… we’ve had our fill of corn dogs, funnel cakes, pork chops on a stick, and presidential hopefuls for the year.

Image courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Courtesy of Iowa State Fair

The Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! team is proud to report that we went out with a BANG, teaching record numbers of fairgoers about all things conservation.

Our final count at the Conservation Station = 7,094 visitors over 11 days of the 2015 Iowa State Fair! That is nearly a 60% increase in numbers at the Conservation Station compared to the 2014 Iowa State Fair. As Nathan referenced in an earlier blog post, each of these visitors that gets counted includes an in-depth lesson/conversation about water and soil issues, whether it be at the Rain Machine (Rainfall Simulator) or Watershed Game (makin’ it rain = fun for all ages!)…



And the Poo Shuffle was utterly irresistible!

DSCN0228DSCN0236Beyond the Conservation Station visitors that we counted, thousands more also stopped by to get their pictures taken with the Conservation Dogs.


A great big thank you goes out to:

Want to bring the Conservation Station to an event near you?  Submit your Conservation Station request today; requests are currently being accepted for fall events.

Ann Staudt

Field days offer perspectives on cover crops, nutrient management, and more

The days are long, the crops are lush and green, and the temperatures are a bit cooler – late summer field days can’t be beat!

150821-SunsetThese next few weeks offer numerous learning opportunities at Iowa Learning Farms field days across the state!  Come hear from farmers about how they are integrating conservation practices such as cover crops, nutrient management, bioreactors, drainage water management, and pasture management into their operations. In addition to diving in and learning from farmers as well as experts from ISU and other partner organizations, each Iowa Learning Farms field day also includes a complimentary meal.

Click on the links below for more detailed information about these field days happening over the next several weeks.  See you there!

Nutrient Reduction Strategies field day
Aug. 26, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Key Co-op, Roland
Learn about the pre-sidedress nitrate test and bioreactors; visit a CREP wetland.

Nutrient Reduction Strategies field day
Aug. 27, 5-7 p.m.
Drainage Research site, Gilmore City
Come celebrate 25 years of research and technology development at the Gilmore City site. Join Bill Northey, John Lawrence, Matt Helmers, Carl Pederson and Bill Crumpton as they discuss ways to reduce nutrients entering our water bodies including the use of cover crops and wetlands.

“Conservation at Work” field day
Sept. 2, 5-7:30 p.m.
Smeltzer Learning Farm, Otho
Learn about cover crops, bioreactors, saturated buffers, wetlands and drones. See a cover crop fly-on! You are invited to an optional field tour of the Smeltzer Learning Farm before/after the field day.

Walnut Creek Watershed Project field day
Sept. 3, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Hosted by Jim Bourn, Red Oak
Hear how cover crops can improve water quality from area farmer Chris Teachout and see a demonstration of the Yield 360 Soilscan, which measures the amount of nitrate ions in the soil.

Water Quality Improvement field day
Sept. 10, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Hosted by Arliss Nielsen, Woolstock
The field day will focus on water quality through drainage water management and cover crops. Arliss has installed a drainage system on 320 acres of his farm. Other presenters include farmer Tim Smith, Stefan Gailans with Practical Farmers of Iowa, Keegan Kult with Iowa Soybean Association, and the Boone River Watershed Quality Initiative.

150821-CattleGrazing Management field day
Sept. 17, 5-7 p.m.
Hosted by Moore Angus Farms, Melrose
Join the Cooper Creek Watershed Project leaders at the field day to learn about grassland management, grazing, and cost-share programs for grasslands.

Ann Staudt

The State Fair is Shuffling!

The Iowa State Fair is under way and things are wild down here at Farm Bureau Park! With 8 days under our belts we have talked to over 6,200 people! When I say talked to, I don’t mean a “Hello, how are you?” I don’t mean a “The weather is nice today, isn’t it?” I am talking about a complete, fun, and interactive water quality lesson.

You think the poo shuffle is easy? Think again! We still have a pile of grand prizes ready to be won.

You think the poo shuffle is easy? Think again! We still have a pile of grand prizes ready to be won.

First, there is an introduction to watersheds and how water moves, then you get to see erosion and runoff in real time with the rainfall machine, and then the cherry-on-top… the world famous, one-of-a-kind, poo shuffle!

If you haven’t been to the Iowa State Fair yet, you still have time to come visit. If you have been to the fair and decided not to visit, well then you may have to purchase another ticket. Moments where you get to push dog poo on a shuffleboard puck don’t just come around every day!

In all seriousness, the Water Rocks! Conservation Station is the premier stop for local water quality education and fun.

Think you can do better? If you do, we will give you your very own piece of poo!

Think you can do better? If you do, we will give you your very own piece of poo!

The Iowa State Fair is shuffling and you have 3 days to do the same! See you at the fair!

We are located at the southwest corner of Farm Bureau Park, just east of the Varied Industries Building.


August ILF Webinar: Cover Crops with Tom Kaspar

ILF’s August Webinar features none other than Tom Kaspar, Plant Physiologist at the USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Laboratory in Ames, IA and USDA Collaborator/Professor with the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University.


Tom Kaspar digs up some of the cover crop roots in his long-term research plots.

Tom discusses his research on Cover Crops in terms of their proven benefits, such as erosion control, soil health, and reduction in nitrate loss.  But Tom also reminds us that we have just scratched the surface of our knowledge, pondering the possibilities of better adapted species, further experimenting with mixtures, and a better understanding of the precise effects upon yield.

Watch this webinar (and catch up on ones you’ve missed here.)

You can also read about getting started with cover crops and if you missed Tom Kaspar on the Conservation Chat, listen here!

-Ben Schrag

Considerations For Getting Started With Cover Crops

Cereal Rye at Steve Berger's Farm

Cereal rye at Steve Berger’s farm in Southeast Iowa

Cover crops have garnered a lot of attention in recent years because they are one of the practices identified in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy that can be used to reduce losses of both nitrogen and phosphorus from farm fields. Cover crops have been shown to reduce erosion, build up or recycle nutrients, enhance soil health, assist with weed control, and provide forage for grazing.

There are things to consider when adding cover crops to your operation. Changes in priorities, timing, logistics and operations are required for successful implementation of cover crops into your cropping system. A new article from Mark Licht, ISU Department of Agronomy, and Tom Kaspar, USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, identify eight important considerations for those looking to get started with cover crops.

  1. Start small and increase scale as your comfort level increases. 
  2. Look for “easy” entry points in your farming system like following corn silage, early soybeans, small grains or prevented planting acres.
  3. Start early with species selection and seed sources.
  4. Adjust seeding rates based on goals and seeding method.
  5. Pay attention to the forecast for timing and best method of seeding.
  6. Create a termination plan for winter-hardy cover crops.
  7. Modifications to corn and soybean management may be necessary to avoid yield drags.
  8. Learn about cover crops – click here for the field day schedule and find one near you!

For more detailed information about these tips and considerations, check out the full article here.

Liz Juchems

Snapshots from State Fair

Water quality takes center stage at the Iowa State Fair when you visit the Conservation Station. Dogs, ducks, a rain machine, watershed game, poo, shuffleboard, prizes… what’s not to love?!   It’s all free. And fun. And educational!

While the Poo Shuffle has big curb appeal, visitors to the Conservation Station must “earn the poo” by first completing one of our educational lessons.  There are multiple options to choose from:


THE WATERSHED GAME – hands-on fun to learn all about watersheds and how pollution works


THE RAIN MACHINE – yes, we make it rain!

… or visitors can step inside the (air-conditioned!) LEARNING LAB and check out the “What’s In Your Water?” display. Each of these games/lessons is focused on water quality, and includes both agricultural and urban components. We’re all in this together, and everyone has a role to play!

Then visitors are invited to get in line and compete in the POO SHUFFLE…   It’s a head-to-head competition where visitors learn about the connections between pet waste and water quality, while trying out their shuffleboard skills and competing for some fabulous prizes!


Dog poo meets shuffleboard in the POO SHUFFLE!

Did you know? 40% of Americans do not pick up their dogs' feces.

Did you know? 40% of Americans do not pick up their dogs’ feces.


Did you know? 1 gram of dog waste (mass of a paper clip) contains 23 million fecal coliform bacteria. If not picked up and disposed of, that poses some serious challenges to water quality!

The Conservation Station offers fun for all: urban and rural, young and old alike…


Love this little guy on his tiptoes to catch all of the action in the watershed game!


… and some of them aren’t even walking yet! You’re never too young to start learning about conservation!

Day 1 of the 2015 Iowa State Fair was a huge success!  While we always talk to large numbers of visitors at the Fair, yesterday was exceptional – our numbers at the Conservation Station were up 60%+ from opening day in 2014.

As Carol mentioned in her State Fair Time blog post yesterday, the Conservation Station is located in Farm Bureau Park, directly east of the Varied Industries Building and south of the Grand Concourse.  Look for the big blue Conservation Station trailer, Conservation Pack dog cutouts, and Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks!/Iowa State University Extension and Outreach flags.  You can’t miss it!

Make conservation a part of your visit to the State Fair – we have fun games and activities for all. A big shout-out to Jim and Jody Kerns and their whole crew for being the first Iowa Learning Farms farmer-partners to stop by the Conservation Station at this year’s fair!

Ann Staudt

State Fair time!


“What’s In Your Water?”
We can answer that question at our State Fair display!

Stop by and find out what could be in your water through our interactive display. See the Conservation Station’s rainfall simulator, the Enviroscape, the learning lab where we show what would happen if rain drops were rubber ducks. Then do the “Poo Shuffle (above)!”  #dothepoo

We are in Farm Bureau Park, located just east of the Varied Industries Building. The fair runs today (Aug. 13) through Sunday, Aug. 23. We’ll be there each day! Stop by and see us!

— Carol Brown