From the Archives: Conservation Chat Podcast with Farmer Sally Hollis

The Conservation Chat podcast is taking a break for the next few months, but I would like to take you back through our archives on a tour of the “Best of the Conservation Chat Podcast.” There are 38 great podcast episodes to choose from – what’s your favorite?

conservationchat-hollisFirst up on the “Best of” list is a chat with Sally Hollis. Back in December of 2015 in Conservation Chat Episode 15, we featured Sally Hollis of Lanehaven Farms. Sally and her husband Blake grow commercial corn and soybeans, seed corn, and cover crops for seed, as well as run a hog operation.

Growing seed corn allowed Lanehaven Farms the opportunity to first plant cover crops, especially along the end rows to help break up compaction. Sally eventually started growing cover crops for seed. Her farm has been able to experiment with many conservation practices, but, she says, they wouldn’t have been able to do so without being able to learn from other farmers, and ultimately being able to go through a trial and error process on her own farm. She encourages farmers to reach out and share information.

“Farmers need to support each other – build each other up, be inclusive, share your knowledge with others, invite somebody to come along with them.” Sally adds, “Help make this an easier decision for them.”

Listen to the episode here! Check out our entire archive of 38 episodes and find your favorite.

Julie Winter

 

Webinar TODAY: Reduce Your Risk of Yield Impact When Using Cover Crops

Montgomery_Co_rye_on_ground

Despite the many documented benefits of cover crops, some farmers are hesitant to add cover crops to their operations due to perceived risks of yield impact and increased Robertsondisease. Dr. Alison Robertson, Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology and Extension Field Crops Pathologist at Iowa State University, will discuss best management practices that can help farmers avoid reduced stands and lower yields. She will also explain how a cover crop may act as a green bridge for oomycete pathogens, thereby creating an increased risk of seedling disease in corn without proper management.

DATE: Wednesday, February 21, 2018
TIME: 1:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Log on as a guest shortly before 1:00 p.m.:
https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/

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 If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars

Julie Winter

Meet Conservation Learning Labs Farmer Brian Sampson

CLL Brian.jpg

Brian Sampson and his wife Deb raise corn and soybeans as well as operate a cattle feedlot in rural Story County. In 2016, Iowa Learning Farms approached Brian to be a part of a new Conservation Learning Labs (CLL)* project that is studying changes in nitrogen and phosphorus loss at the delivery scale.

Brian lives near an existing Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetland in Story County that has measured water quality for about three years. Using the CREP wetland monitoring system, the project will be able to measure changes in water quality after the implementation of conservation practices like cover crops and strip-tillage in the project area over the next three years.

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CREP Wetland near Roland in Story County

Brian tried cover crops on some of his fields in the past, but his results were mixed. In the fall of 2012, Brian says, “I flew cover crops onto my corn. I wanted to grow them to boot stage for my cattle. In the spring, it got wet and my bean planting was delayed . . . but it was a beautiful stand. I ended up baling it.” Brian tried cover crops again in 2013, but a dry fall hindered germination. The start of the CLL project was the assistance he was looking for to give cover crops another try.


“I flew cover crops onto my corn. I wanted to grow them to boot stage for my cattle. In the spring, it got wet and my bean planting was delayed . . . but it was a beautiful stand. I ended up baling it.”


In 2017, through the NRCS conservation planning process, Brian seeded a cereal rye cover crop and started strip-tillage on his fields, treating 42% of the project watershed. With technical support from CLL project partners and Key Coop, Brian hopes to be successful as he makes changes to his operation.

“I’m not an island. I need help,” Brian commented. “I have felt very supported through the project help I have received from ISU Extension, NRCS and Iowa Learning Farms.”

Brian and Deb have two children, Alex and Brice. In addition to farming, Brian is a member of the Story County Cattlemen’s Association and the Story County Farm Bureau.

Julie Winter

*The Conservation Learning Labs project is funded by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Services (USDA-NRCS) of Iowa.

It’s alive! Scientists get closer to identifying what lives in our soil

Iowa Learning Farms has been spreading the word about soil health, and its preservation, for over a decade, and Iowa farmers have long touted the benefits of soil health for crop growth. Now, the importance of soil is gaining an even wider audience when earlier this year researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder published findings of a study leading to the first global atlas of soil bacterial communities.

Researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado-Boulder published their study in the January issue of the highly respected journal, Science. Analyzing 237 soil samples from eighteen countries across six continents of varying climates, the researchers discovered that 2% of soil bacteria—about 500 species—accounted for nearly half of the soil bacterial communities found worldwide!

Images of soil bacteria from the dominant Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria phylotypes courtesy of MicrobeWiki.

While scientists have long known that soil bacteria make up a substantial percentage of earth’s living biomass, contributing to plant productivity, carbon cycling, and nutrient availability, the immense numbers and diversity of soil bacteria (total counts are estimated to be in the tens of thousands!) have kept them from fully understanding soil bacterial distribution and function. The CIRES study is a major breakthrough in soil science as it documents the most abundant and dominant types of soil bacteria found worldwide.

CIRES researchers believe this discovery sets up a “most wanted list” of soil bacteria, as it points to which bacteria should be targeted in future studies seeking to understand soil microbes and their contribution to soil fertility and ecosystem functioning. The next step is to begin categorizing these dominant bacteria into groups of co-occurring bacteria and habitat preferences, resulting in data that the CIRES group hopes will shed more light on the function of certain groups of bacteria, eventually leading to agricultural applications.

The full journal article from Science can be viewed at A global atlas of the dominant bacteria found in soil.

Brandy Case Haub

 

Watershed Management Authorities: Opening the Communication Line Between Cities and Farmers

Today’s guest post is by Mary Beth Stevenson, Eastern Basin Coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Watershed Improvement Section.

Can you think of the last time you sat around a table with farmers and representatives from multiple Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), counties and cities, and elected officials to discuss water quality and flood risk reduction in your watershed? If you live within an active Watershed Management Authority (WMA) region, then these opportunities may arise more than you realize.

WMA map

What exactly can a WMA do? The Iowa Code charges WMAs with assessing flood risk and water quality concerns, identifying conservation and water quality structures and practices that will minimize flood risk and improve water quality, monitoring federal flood risk programs, educating watershed residents and seeking funding for watershed work. The Iowa Legislature authorized the WMAs in 2010 as a response to the disastrous Flood of 2008.

 

Since 2012, when the first six WMAs were established, 23 have now been organized. Currently, 71 counties are covered by at least one WMA, encompassing over a third of the state. WMAs don’t have taxing authority or regulatory authority. In addition, the Iowa Code forbids WMA from condemning land through eminent domain.

The collaborative framework of WMAs is established through cooperative agreements. These agreements are common among cities, towns, counties and other local governments to share resources such as ambulance or fire services. WMAs do not create ‘new’ layers of government; instead, they facilitate more efficient government by allowing for shared resources and cooperation.

For example, a recent Middle Cedar WMA meeting in La Porte City exemplified how WMAs can open a critical line of communication among rural and urban stakeholders. Representatives from both small towns and larger cities gathered with staff and elected officials from several counties and SWCDs at the La Porte City community center.

Middle Cedar

Many of those sitting around the table were farmers. The chair of the Middle Cedar WMA is Todd Wiley, a Benton County Supervisor and successful farmer. It was powerful to observe farmers actively engaged in discussions with city and county officials, collectively making decisions about project funding and the future of the Middle Cedar watershed.


If no farmers had been present at the Middle Cedar WMA meeting, an essential perspective would have been missing. Farmers are an integral piece of the watershed jigsaw puzzle, and their voices are very much welcomed in any Watershed Management Authority.


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If a WMA exists in your area, don’t be afraid to attend a meeting and be an active participant. After all, it is your watershed and your perspective is a valued and respected part of the conversation.

For more information about WMAs, go to the Iowa DNR’s website.

Mary Beth Stevenson

Watershed Scale, Not Field Scale

If we hope to significantly improve water quality in Iowa and still farm profitably, we are going to need to change our mindset about our agricultural systems. We are going to need to start thinking in terms of watersheds.

Each spring I teach a graduate course for the Iowa State University Master of Science in Agronomy distance program called “Agronomic Systems Analysis.” The course is comprised of field-scale case studies that require students to consider how complex decisions must be made by taking into consideration agronomic, economic, environmental, and social implications of the decisions. This year, I incorporated a new lesson that goes beyond field scale but encourages the students to address the issues at the watershed scale.

shelbyemphemeral-e1506974374896The point of this lesson is to have students think not about a single farm or field but to think about where to target practices to be the most effective. And which practices will draw the most reduction of nutrients being lost. This is not rocket science. It has been well established that sloping land is prone to erosion. These are the areas where no-tillage and cover crops are going to be the most effective at keeping soil and phosphorus in place. It’s well understood that well drained soils with very little slope are prone to nitrate leaching. These are the areas where bioreactors, wetlands and cover crops will be most effective in reducing nitrate movement into flowing water.

For several years, the Iowa Learning Farms and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach have been talking about implementing conservation practices and the scale of conservation practice adoption that must occur to reach nutrient reduction goals. For instance, one scenario calls for statewide adoption of MRTN (maximum return to nitrogen) rates along with 12 million acres of cover crops, 12 million acres of no-tillage, 6 million acres treated by bioreactors, and 7.5 million acres treated by wetlands. That effort to date has achieved approximately 625,000 acres of cover crops, 5 million acres of no-tillage, 950 acres treated by bioreactors and 42,200 acres treated by wetlands. We have a long way to go.

Cover crops

Reaching conservation practice goals will take everyone thinking about how his or her footprint impacts the watershed as a whole. It will take targeting practices for maximum effectiveness with minimal impact to the cost of production. Wetlands can be installed to treat water flowing from multiple fields. Prairie strips in strategic locations can minimize sediment and phosphorus loss. Saturated and riparian buffers will reduce nutrient movement and streambank sloughing of rivers and streams. It can even be as simple as installing a waterway to connect waterways from adjacent fields or no-tilling soybean into corn residue.

There can be watershed and community benefits that extend beyond the fence. Many practices can support efforts to provide habitat for pollinators, monarchs, song birds, game birds, waterfowl and deer.

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We cannot meet the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals and improve habitat without changing our mindset about how we farm and the use of conservation. Conservation practices are most effective if they are targeted specifically in areas that will result in a continuous, complimentary system across the watershed.

How can we help you think on a watershed scale?

Mark Licht

Mark Licht is an Iowa Learning Farms team member and Assistant Professor and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist at Iowa State University.

Reduce Your Risk of Yield Impact and Disease When Using Cover Crops

Montgomery_Co_rye_on_ground

Mark your calendars! Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar about how producers can reduce yield impact and disease risks when using cover crops on Wednesday, February 21 at 1:00 p.m.

RobertsonDespite the many documented benefits of cover crops, some farmers are hesitant to add cover crops to their operations due to perceived risks of yield impact and increased disease. Dr. Alison Robertson, Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology and Extension Field Crops Pathologist at Iowa State University, will discuss best management practices that can help farmers avoid reduced stands and lower yields. She will also explain how a cover crop may act as a green bridge for oomycete pathogens, thereby creating an increased risk of seedling disease in corn without proper management.

DATE: Wednesday, February 21, 2018
TIME: 1:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Log on as a guest shortly before 1:00 p.m.:
https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/

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: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars

Thanks!

Julie Winter