Conservation, Water Quality, Dog Poo, and Rock Walls… recapping my experiences at county fairs!

This guest blog post was written by Jessica Rehmann, a high school intern with the Water Rocks! team.  Jessica is beginning her senior year at Ames High School this fall, where she is actively involved with music (playing saxophone in band/jazz band), athletics (cross country/ track), and more. And no, you are not seeing double… Emily Rehmann (previous blogger and summer intern) and Jessica Rehmann are identical twins!

As a summer intern with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms, I have been traveling around the state with the Conservation Station to many county fairs. Our goal is to educate fair attendees about water quality and watersheds with the Enviroscape model, the Rainfall Simulator, the Learning Lab trailer posters and videos, and the Poo Toss game. We also sometimes have free popcorn for the people who visit our station! I have enjoyed teaching kids (and adults!) about the Enviroscape and Poo Toss game.

Teaching the Enviroscape at the Dallas County Fair!

Teaching the Enviroscape at the Dallas County Fair!

With the Enviroscape model, we want to help people see the effects of pollution and rainfall within a watershed. Because the Enviroscape is a three-dimensional model of a watershed, we start by discussing what a watershed is. To make the point that a watershed is an area of land where all the water drains to a common point, I ask kids to make a cup with their hands to represent the watershed and a landscape (or as fellow intern Megan calls it, a “handscape”). We choose places on our “handscape” for our homes, the fairgrounds, and maybe a store. Next we pretend-rain on our hands and determine where the water would go. The kids realize that in their watershed, the water that rains on their houses and the water that rains on the fair would all go to one place, the lowest point on the landscape. In the Enviroscape watershed, they guess that the common point that water drains to is the lake.

The Enviroscape watershed model, clean and ready for teaching.

An overhead view of the Enviroscape watershed model, clean and ready for teaching.

Next, we add pollution to the watershed. I invite the kids to take a tour through the watershed first to get an idea of where pollution could be. The model includes a neighborhood, forest, factory, roads, vehicles, construction site, golf course, farm, pasture, rivers, and lake. We add loose soil (the biggest polluter of water in Iowa), fertilizer, pesticides/herbicides, oil, and manure to the watershed. The kids will often guess what the powders representing the pollutants are, and they are surprisingly accurate, especially with the lime Kool-Aid representing fertilizer!

Megan Koppenhafer, fellow intern, adding loose soil to the watershed, with an eager repeat visitor (in stripes), at the Audubon County Fair.

Megan Koppenhafer, fellow intern, adding loose soil to the watershed, with an eager repeat visitor (in stripes), at the Audubon County Fair.

Jessica Rehmann adding oil to the landscape (Brian Stout looks on) at the Dallas Co. Fair.

Jessica Rehmann adding oil to the landscape (Brian Stout looks on) at the Dallas Co. Fair.

After we have added pollutants to the watershed, the kids summon their inner rain clouds and make a big rainstorm on the Enviroscape with squirt bottles. As the rain hits the ground, it carries the pollutants with it as everything runs downhill to the lake. The kids are often surprised that all the pollutants run into the lake and cause the lake to become disgusting and polluted. They declare that they would not like to drink or swim in the water and that the plants and animals in and around the lake would not be happy.

Making it rain on the Enviroscape with Megan! The lake on the top left is definitely polluted (see clean lake picture above to compare).

Making it rain on the Enviroscape with Megan (above) and Jessica (lower right)! The lake on the top left is definitely polluted (see clean lake picture above to compare).

Then we discuss what we could do differently to help the water in the watershed stay cleaner. The kids can often come up with fixing leaky cars and boats, using less fertilizers and pesticides, and picking up after dogs. I also explain checking the forecast for no rain before applying fertilizers and pesticides, planting buffer strips along fields, using cover crops, planting plants on loose soil, and more.

Jessica Rehmann demonstrating where a buffer strip could go and how it would work.

Jessica Rehmann demonstrating where a buffer strip could go and how it would work.

After learning what they can do to help the watershed, Conservation Station visitors get to play the Poo Toss game. In the Poo Toss game, kids learn to properly dispose of dog waste in order to reduce nutrients and bacteria from getting into water. Once they bag the waste, they can toss it into waste buckets to win prizes. The kids enjoy playing the game and like to see other parts of the Conservation Station or come back and do the same activities again! A couple kids kept coming back with more friends to replay the Poo Toss, or see the Enviroscape and Rainfall Simulator!

Kids trying their hand at the Poo Toss to win prizes from the treasure chest with intern Megan Koppenhafer and staffer Ben Schrag.

Kids trying their hand at the Poo Toss to win prizes from the treasure chest with intern Megan Koppenhafer and staffer Ben Schrag.

While the Enviroscape and Poo Toss were the main activities I was involved with, the Conservation Station offers multiple other learning opportunities, as well. The Rainfall Simulator includes parcels of land that show different land management practices, including no tillage, minimum/conservation tillage, intense tillage, cover crops, urban environment (pavement), and a green roof. A rain machine mists the trays, and there are jars below to collect the surface runoff as well as water that infiltrates (soaks into the land). The jars show the amount and the cleanliness of the water that comes from each plot. Inside the Conservation Station trailer, people can walk through the Learning Lab and check out fun Water Rocks! videos and posters about conservation practices and water quality.

Top: Brian Stout presents the rainfall simulator at the Dallas Co. Fair. Below: Kids checking out videos and posters in the Learning Lab, inside the Big Conservation Station trailer.

Top: Brian Stout presents the rainfall simulator lesson to a group of kids and adults – we talk to people of all ages at county fairs! Below: Kids checking out videos and posters in the Learning Lab, inside the Big Conservation Station trailer.

We invited one enthusiastic girl (in pink) to help teach the Rainfall Simulator (with the help of Ann) to her cousin, which she excitedly did at the Dallas County Fair.

We invited one enthusiastic girl (in pink) to help teach the Rainfall Simulator (with the help of staffer Ann Staudt) to her cousin, which she excitedly did at the Dallas County Fair.

In the quieter moments of the fairs (to be expected with some smaller counties and extreme heat), I enjoyed watching a mud run, walking around the fairgrounds, climbing a rock wall, and meeting Cy!

Ben and I scale the rock wall at the Audubon County Fair!

Ben Schrag (left) and Jessica Rehmann (right) scale the rock wall at the Audubon County Fair!

Cy visits the Conservation Station - two thumbs up for conservation!

Cy visits the Conservation Station – two thumbs up for conservation!

I hadn’t been to any small county fairs before, so it was an interesting experience to see what they had to offer. I had a great time traveling the state with the Conservation Station and teaching about water quality!

The sun sets after a good day at the Dallas County Fair.

The sun sets after a good day at the Dallas County Fair.

Jessica Rehmann

Field Days around the Corner

When it comes to implementing new conservation practices on the ground, field days matter!

Attending field days provides an outstanding opportunity to learn from neighbors and experts about conservation practices, soil health, and water quality; ask questions of fellow farmers as to how they are making cover crops and other conservation practices work in their operations; and enjoy a bit of fellowship while you’re at it.  It’s a chance for farmer-to-farmer dialogue, learning directly from one another about the integration of a variety of conservation practices.

FieldDaysMatter

Over the next week and a half, the Iowa Learning Farms team will be participating in three field days/workshops across the state. Please consider joining us at one of these upcoming events!  Click on the links below for further details about each specific event.

Wednesday, July 29
1:30 – 4:00pm
CCWorkshop-Rotate Cover Crops Workshop
Butler County Extension Office, Allison

Tuesday, August 4
10:00am – 1:00pm
Soil Health & Cover Crops Field Day
Don Elsbernd Farm, Postville

Wednesday, August 5
5:30 – 7:30pm
Whole Farm Conservation Field Day
Craig Fleishman Farm, Minburn

Hope to see you there!

Ann Staudt

Crop Insurance Considerations for Prevented Planting

IMG_2431For some areas of Iowa, frequent rains this spring/summer created prevented plant acres that are a great opportunity to seed cover crops.  If you were unable to get your corn planted by May 31 or soybeans by June 15, you may be eligible for prevented planting payments.  Contact your local FSA office and crop insurance agent before making decisions about prevented planting acres to determine your payment eligibility.

What choices do producers have if they are prevented from planting by the final planting date?

  • Plant the insured crop during the late planting period, if applicable. The late planting period is generally 25 days after the final planting date but varies by crop and area, as specified in the policy. For most crops, the timely planted production guarantee is reduced 1 percent per day for each day planting is delayed after the final planting date.
  • Plant the insured crop after the late planting period, in which case the insurance guarantee will be the same as the insurance guarantee provided for prevented planting coverage.
  • Plant a cover crop and receive a full prevented planting payment (but do not hay or graze this cover crop before November 1 and do not harvest it at any time).
  • Plant a cover crop after the late planting period and hay or graze it before November 1 and receive 35 percent of the prevented planting payment for your first crop.
  • Plant a second crop after the late planting period or hay/graze a cover crop after the end of the late planting period but before November 1 and receive a prevented planting payment equal to 35 percent of the prevented planting guarantee.
  • Leave the acreage idle (black dirt) and receive a full prevented planting payment. Conservation improvements are allowed.

For more information on Prevented Planting, check out the 2015 USDA Risk Management Agency Fact Sheet for Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Liz Juchems

An International Perspective on Water Issues

Today’s guest blogger is Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! student intern Kayla Hasper. Growing up on a farm in southeast Iowa (Montrose), Kayla is beginning her senior year at Iowa State University, where she is pursuing a double major in Animal Ecology and Environmental Studies.

I had the opportunity of studying abroad for two weeks in the tropical country of Belize earlier this summer. While hiking through the jungle and snorkeling in the second largest coral reef system in the world, I started to consider the water quality compared to the water quality here in Iowa.

Kayla Hasper participating in an ISU study abroad program in Belize, June 2015

Intern Kayla Hasper participating in an ISU study abroad program in Belize, June 2015

The agriculture in Belize is mainly sugarcane and fruit production, which is less disrupting to the natural environment when compared to our crop production here in Iowa. Sugarcane is a perennial, therefore stabilizing the soil for the three year growth cycle. When the three years is up and new seeds need planted, it requires less tillage than crops in Iowa. Sugarcane also absorbs the necessary nutrients from the groundwater and is tolerant to insects and disease, so it requires little to no pesticides or fertilizers.

sugar-cane-plant-field

Field of sugarcane, one of the most abundant crops grown in Belize

The fruit orchards, which grow pineapple, coconut, plantains, waxy apples, guava, mangos, etc., are left with native plants growing all around the trees so that there is no soil left vulnerable to erosion.

Mangoes trees are a common site across the country of Belize

Mangoes trees are a common site in the country of Belize

While on the inland, I started noticing the ditches full of plastics, tires, and other garbage. I asked our tour guide about the trash that I was noticing. He explained to me that Belize does not have enough money, support, or governmental power to start a recycling program. Each household disposes of their trash on their own. There are designated areas around villages that you can dump your garbage, which are similar to our landfill sites. These, however, are unregulated and end up as piles of garbage right off the highways. The intense rains in the rainy season in Belize wash all of the loose, vulnerable garbage downhill in the watershed.

Kayla-02

Designated garbage areas in Belize

He explained, though, that a lot of people in the county of Belize do care about conservation and do what they can to reduce and reuse their consumables. I also believe that the poverty in their culture forces them to become more creative with the little that they do have and to not waste much.

Out on the coast of Belize, the beaches were covered in garbage. The locals explained that the trash on the beaches was actually ocean trash from other countries. The garbage on the beaches also comes from ships that dump their trash loads in the middle of the ocean. (Side note – Water Rocks! has a great video called Isle of Plastic that addresses the challenge of ocean trash. While this song is focused on the Pacific Ocean’s garbage patch, the same principles apply!)

Hopkins, Belize beach filled with garbage that has been washed on shore

Hopkins, Belize beach filled with garbage that has been washed on shore

The second week of my trip, we were staying out on an island that was part of the Turneffe Atoll system. In the Turneffe Atoll, the water was crystal clear and there was no trash in the water or on the beaches. This is partially because the coral reef system is protected, which helps reduce the amount of pollution affecting the area. This is also because the island that we were on was surrounded by many other islands, so the trash couldn’t float directly up to it as easily.

The locals are very concerned, though, about the future impacts of a casino being built on one of the islands in the Turneffe Atoll. The land was purchased before it became a protected area, so the casino is legally allowed to be built. This will have increased environmental disturbance and damage in the area. There will be increased water pollution from the boat traffic, disturbance of aquatic wildlife from the speed and sound of the boats, destruction of wildlife habitat on the island, increased pollution from the trash generated at the casino, etc.

We were given the opportunity to meet some awesome local, as well as international, researchers and conservation advocates while on the atoll. There are many studies being researched and proposals being made about protecting certain delicate areas of the coral reef system. These are areas where there are large populations of dolphins, manatees, fish, etc. that could be negatively affected by the introduction of this casino in the area.

Overall, I could tell that the residents of Belize really care about soil and water conservation. They unfortunately do not have the resources to use the best practices for their lands, but are doing what they can to keep their beautiful country clean.

Based on the amount of funding, research, and support that our state has, I am disappointed in our actions after returning from Belize. The data shows that the amount of nutrients we are letting run downstream and the amount of excess tilling we are doing in Iowa is harmful to our environment, yet many of our farmers/landowners are not doing anything about it. There are great conservation practices that we can be implementing on our land while growing our crops. I also think that farmers/landowners should raise a larger diversity of crops and livestock on their land.

Kayla Hasper

Featured Video: A Conservation Carol

We’ve been hearing all about Christmas in July recently, with news of Prime Day and retailers competing with “deals bigger than Black Friday.”

Here at Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!, we have our own version of Christmas in July to showcase.  It’s a new video titled A Conservation Carol, our own unique spin on the old classic “A Christmas Carol.”

A Conservation Carol begins with a young watershed coordinator visiting his uncle’s place over the holidays.  The watershed coordinator is trying to convince his Uncle John, who happens to farm in the watershed, to consider some additional conservation practices on his land.

Uncle John is resistant, responding, “I’ve already done a lot of things.”

“I know, and your strip tillage fields have reduced your erosion. But there are still areas with significant sediment delivery to the creek.”

As he departs, the watershed coordinator leaves his uncle with this parting thought:  “Don’t be a Scrooge. If you’re not going to do it for me, do it for the kids!”

Uncle John replies, reluctantly, “I’ll sleep on it.”

Uncle John hunkers down for a good night’s sleep, and this is when the real excitement begins!

Instead of sugar plums dancing in his head, Farmer John has soil, nutrients, and an irrepressibly exuberant cloud dancing in his dreams.

How will Uncle John respond?  Tune in to A Conservation Carol to find out.

Taking a humorous, light-hearted approach, this short video encourages farmers to do one additional thing on their land to improve their soil health, reduce erosion and improve water quality. We are all called to do #1newthingforwater this year – it takes all of us doing our part. It is a reminder that we can all improve what we are doing when it comes to conservation and the health of our land. And not just for us, but to leave our land and waters in better shape for the next generation.

A Conservation Carol was honored with two 2015 Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards, being recognized in the categories of Direction (Short Form) and Editing (Short Form).

Check out A Conservation Carol, along with our many other videos, on YouTube, TeacherTube, and the Water Rocks! website.

Ann Staudt

Grow Vegetables? Try integrating cover crops!

If you raise vegetables full time or just for fun, check out this great resource publication:

Cover Crops in Vegetable Production Systems

Nair Field Day

Dr. Ajay Nair examines a cover crop root mass at a horticulture cover crop field day.

Cover crops are gaining importance in vegetable production systems. Cover crops reduce soil erosion, minimize nutrient leaching, suppress weed emergence, and build soil quality and organic matter. Cover crops are now being widely used by conventional, sustainable, and organic vegetable growers, to accomplish these tasks and also to maintain high soil fertility. This publication defines various cover crops and their benefits and specifically highlights examples of vegetable crop rotations that could be easily adopted/modified by growers depending upon their production systems.

Cover Crop Horticulture Rotation

Included are five example rotations for how to integrate cover crops in your vegetable cropping system.

For more information and questions about this publication or integrating cover crops into your vegetable rotation, contact the authors:

Dr. Ajay Nair, Assistant Professor and Iowa State Vegetable Extension Specialist

Dr. Tom Kaspar, Plant Physiologist at the USDA-ARS National Soil Tilth Laboratory

Dr. Gail Nonnecke, University Professor and  Morrill Professor, Department of Horticulture at Iowa State

Liz Juchems

A Glimpse of Pluto

A composite image of Pluto, right, and its moonCharon/Image from NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

A composite image of Pluto, right, and its moon Charon/Image from NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Today NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft gave us a rare treat, traveling closer to Pluto than ever and returning with stunning photographs. Like many others, I am filled with awe and wonder at these sights. Looking at the starkly beautiful surface of Pluto, one can’t help but appreciate the contrast with our own world.

As part of my job, I read a lot about water and soil. These two incredible natural resources are truly what makes everything on our world possible. Without them, we simply could not thrive on this planet.

How are we caring for our soil and water? How long will these resources last? Will our planet continue to stand out as an emblem for life, or will it eventually come to resemble the barren landscapes that we see across the rest of our solar system?

As we stand together in awe and wonder at this exceptionally close glimpse of Pluto, let us not forget that our own planet craves our attention, too.

-Ben Schrag