Swamped with Nitrate? Wetlands Can Help

A few years back, a pilot project called the Integrated Wetland Landscape Systems Initiative, a.k.a. the “Iowa Plan,” was set up to study a potential strategy for improving water quality. Its driving question: how effective are wetlands in reducing nitrogen loads from upgraded drainage systems?

Results are in, and here to present and explain them is Dr. William Crumpton, wetland ecologist at Iowa State University, with this week’s webinar: “Integrating Drainage Improvements and Wetland Restoration in Iowa: Environmental Impacts of Improved Drainage and Targeted Wetland Restoration.”

Dr. Crumpton begins by reviewing the urgency behind this work: due in part to the nutrients that end up in Iowa’s agricultural drains, the state has high nitrate concentrations in its surface waters. This makes Iowa a major contributor to gulf hypoxia; the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goal is a 45% reduction in N loads (41% from non-point sources).

Dr. Crumpton comparing a mitigation-bank setup to the integrated wetland system

At five agricultural sites, the Iowa Plan redesigned and upgraded tile such that, instead of water draining to an off-site mitigation bank, it went instead through an on-site, permanently protected wetland. Five reference sites, without drainage upgrades but with CREP wetlands, were also included for comparison. Nutrient concentrations were measured using automated samplers at the inflow and outflow, sampling the water every six hours.

The findings, now brought together after some years of data collection, are promising for wetlands. On the pilot sites, improved drainage led to less drowned-out soil than the reference sites suffered from, but did not significantly increase N export, P export, nutrient concentrations, or mass loads. The wetlands on these sites continued to successfully intercept whatever was thrown at them, reducing nitrate and total N loads downstream by about 30%, just as would be expected for an Iowa CREP wetland.

Notably, the five pilot project wetlands cover just 68 acres together, but intercept more than 9,000 acres of agricultural drainage. So, given the 30% decrease they provide, those 68 acres are doing the nitrogen reduction work we’d get by retiring some 2,700 acres of cropland.

For the fully nuanced data, further details, and a lively Q&A session, you can watch the recording of Dr. Crumpton’s webinar here, and catch up with all our previous webinars on the ILF website.

Join Us for Conservation On Tap Events in May

We are hosting two “Conservation On Tap” events in May. These in-person events will provide local farmers, landowners and interested Iowans with a chance to discuss conservation practices and ask questions of ILF and local extension staff.

Our intent with these events is to help build community through encouraging farmers to talk with their neighbors and ILF about topics important within the community, what keeps them up at night, what challenges they see with conservation practices, and what they want to learn more about. There will be no formal presentations or agenda, just a chance to talk, ask questions, listen and learn while enjoying a beverage and provided food. We are looking forward to learning alongside everyone else who attends.

May 24, 2022 | 6:00-7:00pm
Backpocket Brewing
903 Quarry Rd
Coralville, IA 52241
Flyer

May 25, 2022 | 6:00-7:00pm
Kinship Brewing Company
255 NW Sunrise Dr
Waukee, IA 50263
Flyer

These Conservation On Tap events are produced in collaboration with ISU’s Conservation Learning Group. To ensure adequate space and food, please RSVP for the Conservation On Tap events by calling 515-294-5429 or email ilf@iastate.edu.

Ways that Improved Drainage and Targeted Wetland Restoration Can Impact the Environment

Please join us for the Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) webinar at noon CDT, Wednesday, May 11, featuring William Crumpton, university professor at Iowa State University. Dr. Crumpton’s research focuses on wetland processes and functions, including the dynamics of energy flow and nutrient transformation in wetlands, the fate and effects of agricultural contaminants in wetlands, and the role of restored and constructed wetlands in watershed hydrology, greenhouse gas emissions and water quality.

In the webinar, “Integrating Drainage Improvements and Wetland Restoration in Iowa: Environmental Impacts of Improved Drainage and Targeted Wetland Restoration,” Crumpton will highlight results of a multi-year study on nutrient export and mitigation techniques. He will explore the effectiveness of wetlands in reducing downstream nutrient loads from agricultural catchments. He will also discuss the opportunities for integrating targeted wetland restorations within existing and future agricultural drainage systems with an eye toward reducing or mitigating the export of nitrogen and phosphorus to waterways.

“Agricultural drainage systems are the primary pathway by which nonpoint source nitrogen and phosphorous loads are delivered to Iowa surface waters, and targeted wetland restoration is one of the most promising strategies to intercept and reduce these nutrient loads,” said Crumpton. “As agricultural drainage systems are replaced and upgraded, it is critical that we understand the impacts of drainage modifications on nutrient export and the potential for mitigating those impacts using wetlands and other edge of field practices.”

Participants in Iowa Learning Farms Conservation Webinars 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 CDT May 11:

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/page/webinars. For a list of upcoming webinars visit https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

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.

Opportunities for Private Landowners to Restore Endangered Species Habitat: Webinar Recap

Late in his May 4th webinar, titled “Strategic Habitat Conservation for Threatened and Endangered Species,” Andrew DiAllesandro showed a picture of diverse pollinator habitat, which had been converted from bean stubble just one year prior. Although Andrew didn’t have a picture of the bean stubble, he remarked that “we all know what bean stubble looks like,” but also affirmed that the stubble had provided an excellent seed bed for the planting of a native, perennial mix. Most importantly, the establishment was so successful that the endangered rusty patch bumble bee was seen in the field during its first summer.

With the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partner’s for Fish and Wildlife Program (PFW), Andrew regularly works alongside landowners with diverse conservation goals and needs—providing government cost share and his own ecological expertise—to effectively create habitat for endangered species on private land. As such, he is committed to helping landowners make the creation of new habitat easy and enjoyable. Andrew states that “PFW offers a broad scope of approaches that make it a good choice for many decision makers. We don’t want anyone to be afraid of the terms ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered.’ Just because these terms may apply to local wildlife, it doesn’t mean conservation needs to be difficult!”

To hear more about Andrew’s successful reestablishments of crucial habitat, as well as his ecological advice for landowners and conservation professionals, you’ll have to watch the full webinar! (There were some issues with audio in the live webinar, but we’ve cleaned it up significantly in the recording).

Richard Frailing

New Video Series on Drainage Water Recycling

Drainage Water Recycling: Capturing, Storing, and Using Drained Water for Multiple Benefits

A video series documenting drainage water recycling, an innovative agricultural drainage practice, is now available. This 4-part video series was created based on interviews with drainage researchers, farmers, and contractors to document how this innovative practice is being implemented in Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri. These videos include information about planning, constructing, and managing drainage water recycling systems, as well as benefits received and lessons learned from each of these case studies. 

Drainage Water Recycling: Capturing, Storing, and Using Drained Water for Multiple Benefits – An overview of drainage water recycling, what challenges are addressed by the practice, and why there is growing interest in the practice. (8:19)

Planning Drainage Water Recycling Systems – An introduction to factors to be considered in planning, including site suitability, designing systems, experiences with permitting and regulations, and available resources for technical assistance. (7:38)

Constructing Drainage Water Recycling Systems – Examples of drainage water recycling system construction, in Michigan and Missouri.  (5:02)

Managing Drainage Water Recycling Systems An overview of the management of drainage water recycling systems in Missouri and Minnesota, including managing reservoir water levels, irrigation scheduling, controlled drainage systems, and impacts on crop management. (5:41)

For more information on drainage water recycling visit: https://transformingdrainage.org/practices/drainage-water-recycling/

Liz Ripley

Conserving Traditions of Crop Diversity

When ILF farmer partner Craig Fleishman was in third grade, a severe dust storm engulfed the bus he was riding on the way home from school. He described looking out the windows to “a brown fog on all sides.” The next day at school, the teacher discussed the science of erosion and its ability to degrade natural resources due to poor conservation.

Craig uses this early education in soil health to begin a book he’s currently writing titled The Lost Art of Ridge-till. Craig’s book-in-progress firstly leads readers through these formative experiences which informed the changes he made as a young farmer, as well as his resistance towards adopting a strict corn-bean rotation.

From the beginning of his operation until today, Craig has continued to grow oats alongside corn and soy beans, which he raises in alternating, 12-row strips. Additionally, he uses cover crops on 100% of his owned acres, has conserved the wetlands on his land and restores areas of prairie.

There is a question that drives his unique operation as well as the ways he balances the elements of tradition and innovation which will lead to the greatest health of his soil resources. “If you have organic and industrial on either end, what’s in the middle?” By incorporating practices from different perspectives, Craig is able to simultaneously preserve his diverse rotation, lower his inputs and continue to increase the organic matter of his soil, which has gone up half a percent over the last four years alone.

Along with his neighbor and fellow ILF partner Sam Spellman, Craig and the farmers of Dallas County face the unique challenge of urban sprawl. The urban spread simultaneously raises the value of Craig’s land and makes it harder for the next generation to continue farming.

At the end of our conversation, we came back to the title of his book-in-progress and what is most at stake of being lost from the rural landscape today. Craig specifically spoke about the loss of community from the landscape but expressed his happiness in the broadening rhetoric surrounding conservation: “You can barely open a farming magazine without seeing soil health front and center.” Despite losing some aspects of this sense of community, Craig affirmed that within the ILF partner network, “It’s been enjoyable to have community with like-minded farmers, and not have to argue with everyone.”

Finally, Craig returned to a place of humility while speaking about the place that religion has had in his conservation: “I’ve been a religious person all my life. I’m not one to go out and preach but there is a spiritual side to it. The Good Lord simply doesn’t intend for us to mistreat the soil. And that’s my sermon.”

Richard Frailing

Apply Today – Youth Water Outreach Specialist

Plant the seeds of stewardship as a Youth Water Outreach Specialist with ISU’s Water Rocks! program! The Water Rocks! team is seeking a dynamic, high energy educator to apply creative and fun approaches to teaching science concepts, inspiring Iowa’s youth to see the interconnectedness of water, land, wildlife, and humans. Application deadline is May 16, 2022!

Apply today!

As a part of the award-winning Water Rocks! program, you will

  • Serve as an environmental educator in school settings, delivering high energy presentations and leading interactive games on topics including water, wetlands, soil, pollinators, and ecosystems to students in Grades K-12.
  • Provide hands-on, interactive outreach activities to all ages at community events such as county fairs, festivals, and farmers markets, travelling with the Conservation Station fleet of trailers, primarily in the summer months.
  • Assist with on-farm conservation demonstrations as a part of the Iowa Learning Farms team.
  • Be responsible for content management for numerous digital communications platforms (including, but not limited to, three websites, WordPress blog, MailChimp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to share conservation and water quality-focused messaging.

Example of Duties

  • Serve as environmental educator in school settings, providing natural resources outreach on topics including water, wetlands, soil, pollinators, and ecosystems to students in Grades K-12.
  • Lead conservation and water quality-focused hands-on activities with the Conservation Station trailers.
  • Assist in on-farm demonstrations and field work, including in-field and edge-of-field conservation practices.
  • Support program outreach through content management, creation and delivery of communication and outreach materials including fact sheets, blogs, e-newsletters, and social media posts related to water quality and natural resources.

Threatened and Endangered Species Habitat Conservation Programs from USFWS

Please join us for the Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) webinar at noon CDT, Wednesday, May 4, featuring Andrew DiAllesandro, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) state private lands coordinator. DiAllesandro works with landowners and farmers to promote voluntary conservation efforts on private lands and provides guidance regarding technical and cost-share assistance to facilitate conservation delivery. Focusing on endangered and threatened species, he will highlight USFWS programs designed to encourage habitat conservation and restoration.

In the webinar, “Strategic Habitat Conservation for Threatened and Endangered Species,” DiAllesandro will discuss the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife (PFW) Program, a unique offering which promotes efficient achievement of voluntary conservation implementations on private lands. Addressing the diverse demands and needs of landowners and farmers, he will highlight the program’s flexibility in achieving conservation deployments through the program. PWF currently focuses on endangered pollinators and fish, but it also provides benefits beyond those species.

“We understand that not every landowner or farmer shares the same conservation goals, and we are committed to finding the best way to work with each one in protecting, managing or creating habitat for endangered and threatened wildlife,” said DiAllesandro. “PFW offers a broad scope of approaches that make it a good choice for many decision makers. We don’t want anyone to be afraid of the terms ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered.’ Just because these terms may apply to local wildlife, it doesn’t mean conservation needs to be difficult!”

Participants in Iowa Learning Farms Conservation Webinars 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 CDT May 4:

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/page/webinars. For a list of upcoming webinars visit https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

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.

Liz Ripley

Water and Conservation Educator Opportunity: APPLY TODAY!

Are you looking for a position that is creative, dynamic, and helping to solve water quality and environmental challenges in Iowa and the Midwest? Two innovative and award-winning Iowa State University outreach programs, Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!, are taking applicants for a Water and Conservation Educator. Applications are due May 9.

The Water and Conservation Educator will translate complex science into effective outreach that engages Iowans on issues of water, soil health, in-field and edge-of-field conservation practices via farmer field days, community outreach events with the fleet of Conservation Station trailers, and school visits.

The Water and Conservation Educator will conduct on-farm field research on cover crops, edge-of-field practices and other water quality-related practices, and assist in the development and testing of farmer-scientist kits.

The ideal candidate will have in-depth knowledge of Midwest agricultural systems, experience in water quality and conservation outreach, and an educational background (MS preferred) in water resources, water resources management, agricultural and biosystems engineering, agronomy (with specific emphasis on water quality practices), environmental sciences or comparable fields.

On-the-Ground Data for Soil Risk Pricing

Here’s a perplexing paradox. Soil health practices such as cover crops are known to mitigate risk; the practical consensus is that they strengthen yield stability and shorten recovery time. The twist is that the institutions that price risk haven’t yet found feasible ways to factor soil health into their calculations. In short, a major component of agricultural risk management isn’t making it into risk assessments. What ought we to do?

Here to preview a possible solution are Aria McLauglan and Harley Cross, with this week’s webinar, “Valuing Soil Health to De-risk Adoption and Develop Incentives for Producers through Lending and Insurance.” McLauchlan and Cross are co-founders and directors of Land Core, a nonprofit soil health organization. They are currently working to intervene in the question of risk assessment by developing a risk model—a predictive, actuarially sound modeling tool for quantifying risk-mitigating benefits of specific soil health practices.

McLauchlan and Cross discuss planned outcomes in a slide from the webinar

They begin the webinar by reviewing the practical benefits of such a model; de-risking finance (such as bank loans and insurance rates) can de-risk soil health practice adoption, encouraging a vastly improved economic and business case for soil health. The model may also help soil health practices leap over certain behavioral barriers, given that economic incentives from banks and insurance companies don’t carry the same cultural implications as governmental and NGO participation. It’s a matter of scaling regenerative agriculture to encourage incentivizing new adoption and rewarding existing adoption.

In the Land Core model, field-level data will inform a machine-learning-based statistical model to predict outcomes, including yield variability and recovery time. The MVP is now in development and will be rolled out at a regional scale, beginning in the Midwest. It’s being designed as a pragmatic decision-making tool based on statistical cause-and-effect principles.

You can watch the recording of the webinar here, and catch up with all our previous webinars on the ILF website.