Bedding down with Miscanthus

Emily Heaton | Assistant Professor of Agronomy, Iowa State University

Giant Grass for Bedding?

Iowa now boasts >1,100 acres of giant miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus) and the bedding market may be poised to increase acreage further. The perennial grass is being grown for the University of Iowa’s power plant as part of their Zero Coal by 2025 effort, and now positive experience with the crop for livestock bedding could expand miscanthus markets beyond bioenergy. AGgrowTech, the North Carolina-based company that manages the University of Iowa’s miscanthus fields, has been developing bedding products to meet the10-12% increase in US poultry production projected by the USDA in the next decade. Could Iowa’s thriving poultry industry be able to switch from out-of-state wood to home-grown grass bedding?

AGgrowTech partnered with North Carolina State University and found that miscanthus bedding is better for poultry than traditional wood shavings bedding. In response, over 1,000 acres were recently planted in Maryland for poultry bedding and similar plans are being considered in Iowa. Major poultry producers in Northwestern and Eastern Iowa are testing miscanthus bedding for their production operations. If the producers like the product, it would take about 2,000 acres of miscanthus to supply some of Iowa’s bigger poultry operations.

Chopped miscanthus makes good poultry bedding. Photo credit: AGgrowTech.

Benefits of Miscanthus Bedding

Miscanthus bedding and production compare favorably to traditional wood shaving bedding imported from out of state. These benefits include:


  • longer lasting bedding
  • 3x more biomass per acre
  • less processing for final product
  • better feed conversion ratio
  • grown locally


  • Reduces poultry ammonia emissions
  • better compost quality
  • reduces nitrate leaching from fields (compared to corn/soy)
  • reduces soil erosion (compared to corn/soy)
  • increases soil organic matter (compared to corn/soy)
Text Box: Figure 4. Iowa State University’s miscanthus research plots at Sorenson Farm Photo Credit: Heaton Lab ISU
Iowa State University is testing miscanthus environmental and economic performance under different rates of N fertilization.

Animal Health

  • Improves bird foot health
  • 3x more absorbent
  • 20% less moisture 
  • Sap-free bedding
  • Less bird mortality 
Chickens on miscanthus bedding. Photo credit: AGgrowTech.

Growing miscanthus for bedding that can then be composted and applied to farmland as a slow-release fertilizer and soil amendment seems an exciting option for Iowa agriculture. It could help farmers diversify grain operations while protecting soil and water resources. It could also help poultry operators buy bedding locally that increases animal quality along with their bottom line. An added bonus is that using locally-grown miscanthus for bedding would also help reduce Iowa’s greenhouse gas footprint.

More information about biomass in Iowa can be found in ISU biomass’s past and future blogs as well as ISUBiomass on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Details regarding miscanthus bedding can be found on AGgrowTech’s website:

Emily Heaton, Tyler Donovan, and Josh Bendorf

A Conservation Chat with Secretary Naig


On Wednesday, Dr. Jacqueline Comito, Director of Iowa Learning Farms, sat down with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Naig, to discuss conservation, water quality and the Secretary’s vision for Iowa. Their conversation was broadcast as an Iowa Learning Farms webinar and will also be featured on an upcoming episode of Dr. Comito’s Conservation Chat podcast. During the webinar, attendees were able to submit questions for Secretary Naig through the webinar software.

Jackie & Sec Naig

Naig and Comito discussed the need to scale up conservation efforts in Iowa, including the importance of collaborating with both federal partners and the private sector. In order to scale up the efforts to meet the goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, both Naig and Comito stressed the importance of understanding what motivates people to adopt conservation practices. “I think some of the most effective outreach events are when you have farmers sharing their experiences,” said Naig.

Throughout the webinar, Secretary Naig also talked about his work with the Hypoxia Task Force, IWILL funding, the importance of profitability, and the need for both more research and more outreach. The conversation also touched on the importance of improving quality of life for rural Iowans and how investing across the whole state can help achieve that. The economics of developing conservation infrastructure across Iowa, and the diversification of income that will happen with increased conservation opportunities, could be a key component of revitalizing rural areas.

“I’m not trying to build the last wetland, I’m trying to build the next ten—and figure out how to do them faster and more efficiently than we did the last ten.” – Secretary Naig

Watch the full webinar here!

Secretary Naig will be present as a participant at six Iowa Learning Farms field days this  year—details are still being worked out, but you can find information about all of our upcoming events here!

And be sure to join us next month, on March 18, when Matt Russell, Executive Director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “Embracing the call to abundance, the value of environmental service on Iowa farms”.

Hilary Pierce

February 5 Webinar: A Conservation Chat with Secretary Naig


Sec. Naig headshot 19

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, February 5th at 12:00 p.m. with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

The webinar will feature Dr. Jacqueline Comito, Iowa Learning Farms Program Director, and Secretary Naig discussing conservation, water quality and the Secretary’s vision for Iowa.  They will also discuss the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and how Iowans are working to meet the nitrogen and phosphorus loss reductions outlined in the Strategy. Webinar participants will be able to submit questions for Secretary Naig during the webinar through the Zoom Webinar software.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, February 5, 2020
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit and click the link to join the webinar

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:

Hilary Pierce

A Conservation Chat with Wade Dooley & Nathan Anderson

Conservation Chat Header

The Conservation Chat podcast has a brand new episode out this week! Host Jacqueline Comito had a conversation with farmers Wade Dooley and Nathan Anderson, who are both working hard to increase the resiliency of their farms.

cover crops

The passion that these two young farmers feel about their land and their farming practices shines through in the conversation; with Anderson discussing the mission and vision statements that he and his wife have been working on for their farm, and Dooley talking about making big changes: moving away from row crops to CRP acres and a grass-fed cow-calf operation. Both men stressed the importance of finding a system that allows you to do what you enjoy, but that will also be a successful and profitable business.

cover crop cowsComito mentioned the upcoming Conservation Chat with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Naig, and asked Dooley and Anderson if they had any questions for the Secretary. They discussed both the importance of policy making it attractive for there to be more people farming in rural Iowa – stressing a need for more neighbors, rather than more acres to farm – and the importance of growing more than just corn and soybeans, but also growing vegetables, fruit and meat in order to feed our neighbors here in Iowa.

Dooley and Anderson are truly “farming for the future”, with an emphasis on making their farms resilient in the changing climate and finding systems that allow them to learn, adapt and get excited to try again next year. To learn more about the challenges and opportunities that they see on their farms and for rural Iowa, listen to the podcast here or on iTunes!

Be sure to join us at noon on February 5th when the Conservation Chat with Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig will air as a live webinar!

Hilary Pierce

Conservation Chat Marks 50th Episode – And it’s Full Steam Ahead

Conservation Chat Header

Jacqueline Comito | Iowa Learning Farms Director and Conservation Chat Host

The 50th Conservation Chat podcast from Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) went live last month. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, the podcast series covers topics relating to Iowa’s environment, water quality, as well as its biggest industry – Agriculture. I’ve been hosting the series from the beginning, and it’s given me some wonderful opportunities to learn and explore Iowa-centric topics from many angles. With 50 episodes to choose from, I’m pretty sure there’s something of interest for anyone who wants to learn about Iowa.


Clare Lindahl was the guest on CC35: “Preaching” Conservation

Since my inaugural episode in February 2015 with then Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, I’ve chatted with a huge variety of people who have passions for Iowa, conservation and the environment. Guests have included distinguished experts, on-the-ground researchers, farmers, professionals from farming and conservation groups, and government officials.

I’ve tried to maintain a conversational unscripted format from the beginning of the program. These truly are chats that kick off with me asking interview questions, but the resulting back and forth typically takes on a life of its own. Frequently we’ve riffed on ideas that just came up in the conversation, not talking points either of us had considered when the mics were turned on. It’s fun and I hope the listeners hear that our intent is to inform in a relaxed and entertaining manner. And the casual atmosphere of the program allows us to explore the personality of the guest and bring out what they are passionate about and why.

Another unique part of the program is the inclusion of original music from ILF team members and professional musicians Ann Staudt and Todd Stevens.

Conservation Chats have been downloaded over 11,400 times. This level of interest buoys the spirits of the team to continue to create relevant and interesting content.

Interestingly, the first Conservation Chat continues to garner new downloads. It leads the total download list, and just in the fourth quarter of 2019, 14 new downloads were recorded. Other highflyers still logging new downloads have been CC35: Clare Lindahl: “Preaching” Conservation in September 2017 and CC 38: Earthworms and Cover Crops with Ann Staudt and Dr. Tom Kaspar in January 2018.



Dr. Janke in action at a field day

The milestone 50th Conservation Chat features my chat with Dr. Adam Janke and his list of 20 Things To Do in the 2020s To Increase Wildlife Habitat in Iowa. Some are simple and others more difficult, but the podcast covers a lot of ground about conservation, habitat and the importance of diversity on many levels.

In 2019 I wanted to change things up a little bit to improve engagement with guests and listeners and add some new dimensions to the podcast format. Adding co-hosts was the biggest change, and the changes have brought positive listener feedback. Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, from the Iowa Environmental Council, joined me to as co-host for some episodes. And I teamed up with ISU assistant professor and Extension wildlife specialist Adam Janke for an episode. Adding co-hosts helped change the dynamics of the podcast, moving from a one-on-one Q and A format to more of a group discussion.


Secretary Naig & Dr. Comito

Looking ahead, in February 2020 I welcome the return of Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Secretary Mike Naig. His 2019 podcast was fast-paced and informative. I’m are looking forward to another great update on progress and goals from the perspective of the State of Iowa.

The podcasts are available with a quick search for Conservation Chats on Apple Podcasts or Spotify as well as on the ILF website.

Overview of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center


Are you curious about the role of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center (INRC) and the projects that the INRC has supported and is currently involved with?

Kay Stefanik, Assistant Director of the INRC, discussed the Center and some of the impacts from research projects funded by the INRC, as well as its current activities, in a short webinar on Wednesday. Watch the webinar here!INRC Graphic

Be sure to also check out the upcoming seminar series that is being launched by the INRC! The first seminar will be next Wednesday, January 22 – see below for more information.

INRC Seminar

And  join us next month, on February 5, when Jacqueline Comito will sit down with Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, for a Conservation Chat!

Hilary Pierce

January 15 Webinar: Overview of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center


Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, January 15 at 12:00 p.m. about the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

Matthew Helmers (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)Matt Helmers, Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, will discuss the Center and some of the impacts from research projects funded by the Center, as well as its current activities. The research funded by the Center focuses on nutrient export from agricultural lands and the performance of conservation practices. This research is important for improving our understanding of the performance of nutrient reduction practices and development of new methods for reducing nutrient loss. “The Center is interested in hearing from stakeholders what they think are the most pressing research questions,” said Helmers.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, January 15, 2020
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit and click the link to join the webinar

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:

Hilary Pierce