Conservation Learning Lab: Implementation of Cover Crops at Small Watershed Scale

Matt Helmers, director, Iowa Nutrient Research Center, shared the results of three years of water quality monitoring data after cover crop implementation during the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday. The Conservation Learning Lab (CLL) project, started in 2016, posed the question, “Can high levels of cover crop implementation and reduced tillage be obtained on a small watershed scale, and water quality improvement documented accordingly?” The project focused on small watersheds—between 500 and 1,300 total acres in size.

Two pilot watersheds were chosen in Floyd County and Story County. These watersheds were chosen based on their size and that they had existing Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetlands that provided baseline water quality monitoring data. This allowed for the comparison of water quality before and after conservation practice implementation and to a similarly sized control watershed that did not implement conservation practices. The figures above show the adoption of cover crops and strip-tillage in the two pilot watersheds for the CLL project.

The results of the study indicated that, to date, there has not been a noticeable reduction in nutrient loss at the small watershed scale due to the implementation of cover crops within the watershed. This may be because the entire watershed area was not treated with cover crops and a higher rate of adoption may yield noticeable water quality benefits. There may also be some lag time between implementation and noticeable results, which emphasizes the importance of continuing to monitor the results over several years. Growth of the cover crops is another factor that may impact the water quality benefits, as shown in other research, and may be the critical factor in this study. Some fields in the study were seeded with rye, while others were seeded with oats and it expected that oats will have less of an impact on water quality.

To learn more about this project, watch the full webinar!

Join us next week, on Wednesday, March 10 at noon, for the webinar, “Cropping System Diversification is a Path to Greater Sustainability,” presented by Dr. Matt Liebman, professor of agronomy and H. A. Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University (ISU).

Hilary Pierce

March 16 Virtual Cover Crop Boot Camp – Register Today!

Iowa Learning Farms is collaborating with Practical Farmers of Iowa to provide an online Cover Crop Boot Camp on Tuesday, March 16th. Register today!

This Cover Crop Boot Camp is based on work supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under number 6000004181. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender. Additional partners include: Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and Iowa Soybean Association.

Comito Recognized for Program Pivot During Pandemic

Director Jacqueline Comito honored with ISU Extension Pivot Award for leading efforts to develop and launch virtual conservation and water quality education and outreach programming

Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! announced that director Jacqueline Comito has been recognized for her efforts in leading the pivot to virtual programming over the past year. John Lawrence, ISU Extension and Outreach vice president, conferred the Extension Pivot Award as a part of his recent COVID-19 Exceptional Effort Awards.

The award cited Comito’s creativity and leadership of the team in quickly retooling previously in-person programs to develop and deliver virtual field days and weekly ILF conservation webinars. In addition, he noted her guiding the Water Rocks! launch of a range of virtual programs including new videos, in-person outdoor school programs, and livestreaming virtual presentations for youth.

“The quick response to the pandemic was a team effort which involved a lot of brainstorming, creative reimagining and some experimentation,” said Comito. “I am pleased to accept the award on behalf of all the team members. Everybody went to great lengths to ensure we were delivering the quality educational content needed by farmers, agency partners, youth and all Iowans.”

Stepping up from one webinar per month, ILF launched weekly webinars in March of 2020. Taking place every Wednesday at Noon, attendance has steadily increased over time, and opened up opportunities for more local, regional and even national speakers to participate.

“Overcoming some initial skepticism, virtual field days have not only garnered positive feedback, but the audiences have also continued to grow,” added Comito. “These virtual programs have added new dimensions to our outreach portfolio, and many will likely continue long after pandemic restrictions fall to the wayside.” (Check out ILF’s Virtual Field Day Archive to catch up on any previous events you missed.)

Water Rocks! livestreaming and recorded content is appropriate for individual and home-bound learners as well as classroom and school-wide audiences. The outdoor classroom program saw positive responses in the fall and will resume as weather improves in the springtime. The full range of Water Rocks! virtual programs are highlighted below.

Program

Description

Grade Level

Learn More or Request

Water Rocks! Live Streaming

Virtual presentations delivered live to classrooms, featuring water and natural resources lessons with Iowa core curriculum content

K-8

Request Virtual Visit

Water Rocks! Spoken Earth

Interactive virtual workshops that help secondary students find their voice through science, art, and spoken word poetry

6-12

Request Workshop

Water Rocks! Outdoor Classroom

Physically distanced school visits conducted outdoors (as weather permits), featuring games, music, and science-based learning

K-8

Request Outdoor Visit

Water Rocks! Simple Science

Weekly video tutorials featuring 5-minute science activity lessons for classroom or independent learning

3-8

Learn Online

Water Rocks! Unplugged

Acoustic music videos offering science information through award-winning Water Rocks! original music

K-8

Tune In

Harmony Brook Watershed

Puppet show video series where learning, laughter, adventure, and appreciation of nature meet!

K-3

Watch

Rock Your Watershed! Game

Award-winning computer game—choose how your land is used to balance economics and environmental impacts!

5-12

Play

Congratulations to Jacqueline Comito, and the ILF and WR! teams!

March 3 Webinar: Conservation Learning Lab: Implementation of Cover Crops at Small Watershed Scale

The impact of cover crop implementation on water quality in two small watersheds is the topic of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, March 3.  

During this webinar, Matt Helmers, director, Iowa Nutrient Research Center, will highlight three years of water quality monitoring data after cover crop implementation. The Conservation Learning Lab project, started in 2016, posed the question, “Can high levels of cover crop implementation and reduced tillage be obtained on a small watershed scale, and water quality improvement documented accordingly?” The project focused on small watersheds—between 500 and 1,300 total acres in size—and two pilot watersheds were chosen in Floyd County and Story County.

The watersheds were chosen for their size and existing Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetlands that provided baseline water quality monitoring data. The continued monitoring allows for the comparison of water quality before and after conservation practice implementation and to a similarly sized control watershed that did not implement conservation practices.

“Water quality monitoring at the watershed scale is critical for documenting nutrient reduction from practice implementation,” said Helmers. “Seeing water quality improvement may take years.”

Helmers’ research focuses on agricultural water quality, including the impact of nutrient management, cropping practices, drainage design and management, and strategic placement of buffer systems on nutrient export in agricultural landscapes.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CST on March 3:

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.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Silvo-what?: Exploring Opportunities for Livestock with Silvopasture Management

Silvopasture management was the topic of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday. Silvopasture is an agroforestry practice that involves intentionally managing livestock, trees, and forage in the same productive space. Ashley Conway, PhD, PAS, assistant research professor at the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry, provided a brief introduction to the practice and explained that there are several strategies to implementing silvopasture, which depend on the space, animals, and trees being managed.

Conway described silvopasture management as “a la carte agriculture” due to the variety of strategies available for implementing it. The landowner or operator can choose the combination of products and practices that works for them, depending on the livestock type, forage type, and forest resources desired. Silvopasture management has been implemented across the globe, and is particularly prevalent in tropical regions. Previous research into the practice has shown many benefits to its use, including improved soil characteristics, nutrient retention, water quality, livestock performance, forage quality, and tree growth. There are economic benefits as well, such as revenue diversity, increased income, and more efficient land use.

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Conway also explained some of the many considerations for converting forest to silvopasture. For example, it’s important that the site is suitable and that the tree species are assessed to determine what to keep, cut, and add when thinning trees in order to introduce livestock and forage. There are impacts of forest management that must also be considered, including invasive species and soil disturbance and compaction. In a silvopasture system, short- and long-term management are necessary and Conway emphasized the importance of understanding the needs of your unique system given that there is no one silvopasture system.

To learn more about what silvopasture is and the considerations for implementing it, watch the full webinar!

Join us on Wednesday, March 3, for the webinar “Conservation Learning Lab: Implementation of Cover Crops at Small Watershed Scale” with Matt Helmers, director, Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

Hilary Pierce

Virtual Field Day March 4: Water Quality and Quantity Improvements in the Clear Creek Watershed

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day featuring the efforts in the Clear Creek Watershed to improve water quality and quantity issues on Thursday, March 4 at 1 p.m. CST. Join us for a live discussion with John Rathbun, Clear Creek Watershed Coordinator and Johnson County landowners Pat and Burne Sippy.

Located in Iowa and Johnson County, the Clear Creek Watershed Coalition is working to implement seventy conservation practices to improve water quality and reduce downstream flooding. One unique project in the watershed being highlighted during the virtual field day, is the construction of a fringe wetland along the edges of a revitalized pond owned by the Sippy family.

Johnson County Landowners Pat Sippy and Burne Sippy

The fringe wetland will create a land shelf 6-18 feet in width around about 90% of the pond and will be just above the normal pool of the pond. It will provide consistently saturated soil for wetland plants and wildlife and will be become inundated during rain events to store additional water and filter the water as it moves through the wetland. Combined with additional practices, the Sippy’s land will be storing water during high rain events and significantly reducing the flood potential to the Tiffin, Coralville and Iowa City communities.

“In a 1,850-acre sub-watershed of Middle Clear Creek, five landowners have installed twelve practices that treat eleven percent of the acres.  The Sippy family has installed three of these practices and will be installing two more in another sub-watershed.  They exemplify the conservation ethic and stewardship of land, water and wildlife that makes them a good neighbor to their downstream neighbors, Clear Creek, and Iowa,” noted Rathbun.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CST on March 4 to learn more, click HERE or visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events and click “Join Live Virtual Field Day”.

 Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 914 1198 4892

The field day will be recorded and archived on the ILF website so that it can be watched at any time. The archive will be available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU). Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.

Liz Ripley

February 24 Webinar: Silvo-what?: Exploring Opportunities for Livestock with Silvopasture Management

Silvopasture management is the topic of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, February 24.

Silvopasture is an agroforestry practice that involves intentionally managing livestock, trees, and forage in the same productive space. There are several strategies to implementing silvopasture, and the wide variety of strategies depends on the space, animals, and trees being managed. During this webinar, Ashley Conway, PhD, PAS, assistant research professor at the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry, will provide a brief introduction to silvopasture management.

“Despite being a very old practice, silvopasture is gaining mainstream momentum as a way to raise livestock that enhances economic and environmental resiliency,” said Conway. She hopes webinar participants will gain a strong understanding of what silvopasture is, and also what does not constitute a silvopasture system. 

Conway is working to develop a research program investigating the logistical, economic, environmental, and social dynamics of silvopasture systems in Missouri and the Midwest through the lens of efficient and responsible animal production. 

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CST on February 24:

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.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Nutrient Retention Capacity of Newly Restored Wetlands in Southwestern Ontario

During the webinar on Wednesday, Bryan Page, research biologist with Ducks Unlimited Canada, shared the first year of results investigating the nutrient retention capacity of newly restored wetlands in the Canadian portion of the Lake Erie watershed. In 2016, the US and Canada adopted a goal to reduce phosphorus in Lake Erie by 40% and wetlands were identified as natural infrastructure to help protect downstream water quality. The goal of this project was to assess the nutrient retention capacity of newly restored wetlands and provide a quantitative value to determine if wetland restoration should be used as a best management practice to help restore and protect Lake Erie water quality.

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This project measured all of the phosphorus and nitrogen species, rather than just total phosphorus and nitrogen, to allow for a greater understanding of nutrient retention and how biologically available the nutrients that were not retained are. Some species are more biologically available than others, making it important to consider the species when assessing nutrient retention capacity. The project assessed eight newly restored wetlands in southwestern Ontario, which had an average age of 4 years, average basin area of 0.33 hectares, and average contributing area of 16.4 hectares.

To learn more about this project and the first year results, including a breakdown of the different phosphorus species, watch the full webinar!

Join us next week, on Wednesday, February 24, for the webinar “Silvo-what?: Exploring Opportunities for Livestock with Silvopasture Management” with Ashley Conway, PhD, PAS, assistant research professor at the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry.

Hilary Pierce

Realizing George Washington Carver’s Vision for Life and Land

In January 1921, George Washington Carver traveled from Tuskegee, Alabama, across the Jim Crow south and into the segregated nation’s capital. He was there to extol the value of southern farmers’ peanuts as the House Ways and Means Committee considered tariffs on imports. Crowd-pleasing presentations like the one he gave that day, and on many more days all across the south, earned Carver the moniker “The Peanut Man.”

Although this caricature of Carver persists today in children’s books and the cultural lore around this unique life, it misses the deeper, nobler point of Carver’s work. That’s because, to Carver, the peanut wasn’t just some curious media for his experimentation or a vehicle to a profitable career. Rather, to Carver, the nitrogen-fixing properties of the peanut  was life-support for impoverished soils of southern farms and the protein-rich nutritional profile of the peanut was nourishment for bodies of Black farmers he sought throughout his life to serve.

Serving people, not peanuts

In his own words, the goal of Carver’s work was “…to help the farmer and fill the poor man’s empty dinner pail….to help the ‘man farthest down’.” Thus the peanut, along with the sweet potato, cow pea, alfalfa, and more became simply a means to achieve an end on which he focused his work — healthy communities built on healthy farms. Unfortunately, Carver’s legacy was largely eclipsed by his “Peanut Man” caricature, rather than being remembered for his work in blending science, art, and compassion in service of the greater good. As one of his biographers, Dr. Mark Hersey writes, it was perhaps “inevitable that a capitalist nation would judge Carver’s agriculture vision on the basis of its industrial and economic merits.” Fortunately, the broad, lasting environmental and social relevancy of George Washington Carver’s work is today coming to light.

“Wherever the soil is wasted the people are wasted. A poor soil produces only a poor people – poor economically, poor spiritually and intellectually, poor physically.”

George Washington Carver, 1938

Save the soil, save the farm, save the farmer

As captured well in his advocacy work for the peanut, Carver saw the need for agriculture to serve the people of the farm first and foremost, ahead of the prevailing practice of his day (and perhaps ours) of mining the soil for profits largely accrued off the farm. Thus, Carver sought to find ways to diversify the largely exploitative cotton farms of his home county in Alabama by promoting a diversity of crops. In summarizing this notion in 1914, Carver wrote “thoughtful farmers are aware that any one crop system is disastrous to the average farmer and those who are living independently and happily on the farm are those who diversify their crops.”

In that same article, Carver espoused the readers of Negro Farmer to extend kindness granted people (though notably not Black people in the Jim Crow south) to the soil, because “unkindness to anything means an injustice done to that thing”  and the farmer “whose soil produces less every year is unkind to it in some way; that is he is not doing by it what he should.” A concise land ethic articulated 35 years before the publication of that other famous Iowan’s version.

Carver also worked hard to practice what he was preaching in bringing back the soils of the university’s research farm. I wonder if Carver was harkening back to his days in Iowa’s richly organic soils when he admonished administrators at Tuskegee to “look to the permanent building up of our soils” on the school farms, further asserting “the crying need of nearly every foot of land we have in cultivation is vegetable matter (humus).” There, he worked to diversity the farm, add organic nutrients from compost, and integrate livestock to make the university’s farm a model for the community.

“This old notion of swallowing down other peoples’ ideas and problems just as they have worked them out without putting our brain and originality into it and making them applicable to our specific needs must go, and the sooner we let them go, the sooner we will be a free and independent people.”

George Washington Carver, 1898

Be yourself, be creative

Carver was by all accounts a conspicuous man: a talented and creative artist; a highly educated Black man in agriculture at a time where there were few others; a humble dresser but for the flower always adorning his lapel; and a man with a general disregard for gender roles in a society where each eccentricity was suspect. It was perhaps this general disregard for norms that made Carver such a strong advocate, creative thinker, and problem solver. As Hersey recounts in his book, one of Carver’s students wrote proudly to inform him “he was employing what he had learned at Tuskegee ‘against the will of every farmer’ in his community, and was getting spectacular results.” 

Carver was a mind for the ages. Blending a love for art, humanity, and science into a special educational model for his time. Today he would be lauded for his worldly thinking and keen ability to transcend the boundaries of art and science in search of a more inclusive, equitable world. He was selfless in a way the best of public servants are.

Carver saw connections between race and privilege, class and conservation, decades before most. He knew how the deck was stacked against him and his contemporaries in a racist system not built to embrace the diversity he knew it needed. Some have criticized Carver for not standing stronger in the face of racist policies and practices of his day. But Carver was not simply a bystander. Just as he admonished Tuskegee administrators to practice what they preached for the health of the land, he dismissed segregationist’s arguments in favor of Jim Crow policies, saying “gentlemen what you do speaks so loud, I can’t hear what you say.”

We in the conservation and agricultural community are wise to heed the lessons of George Washington Carver’s life and vision for a love for land and a love for all people. To put people and soil ahead of short-term profit and narrowly-defined progress. To break down barriers put in place to keep creative thinkers or new voices away. To think creatively and act boldly. To let our actions speak louder than our words so as to help the land and people, especially those ‘furthest down.’   

Adam Janke

Author’s note: Each quote featured in this article came from either My work is that of conservation: An environmental biography of George Washington Carver or George Washington Carver: In his own words, Second edition. The former is highly recommended reading.

February 17 Webinar: Nutrient Retention Capacity of Newly Restored Wetlands in Southwestern Ontario

The Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, February 17, will highlight research being done on the nutrient retention capacity of newly restored wetlands in Ontario, Canada.

Wetlands have been identified as natural infrastructure to help protect downstream water quality. However, wetland drainage has resulted in widespread loss of wetlands across the rural working landscape of southwestern Ontario, Canada. Bryan Page, research biologist with Ducks Unlimited Canada, will report on the first year of results investigating the nutrient retention capacity of newly restored wetlands in the Canadian portion of the Lake Erie watershed.

“In settled areas of Canada, up to 70% of our wetlands have already been destroyed or degraded. As they continuous to disappear, so too do the many benefits they provide,” said Page. “Newly restored wetlands retain nutrients on the landscape and help protect our lakes.”

Page received his B.Sc. majoring in Environmental Science and his M.Sc. in Chemistry both at the University of Manitoba. Since he joined Ducks Unlimited Canada’s Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research in 2008, his research has focused on the behavior of nutrients in restored, constructed, and intact wetlands across the prairie pothole region and southwestern Ontario.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CST on February 17:

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.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce