ILF Farmer Partners to Host Woman Landowner Meetings Oct. 10 and 29

Press Release Oct Mtngs

Photo: Angie Carter

Women, Food and Agriculture and the Raccoon River Watershed Association are co-sponsoring Woman Caring for the Land Meetings in the Raccoon River Watershed this fall.  Hosting the meetings are ILF farmer partners Chris Henning (Oct. 10) and Whiterock Conservancy (Oct. 29).

Women who own or manage farmland in Iowa’s Raccoon River watershed are invited to attend a free upcoming conservation discussion about soil health and the future of their farmland.


Saturday, October 10, 9a.m.-3p.m.

Milwaukee Railroad Depot

509 E. Lincoln Way

Jefferson, Iowa

• Includes lunch and visit to Chris Henning’s farm

Thursday, October 29, 9a.m.-3p.m.
Whiterock Conservancy

Burr Oak Shelter

1436 Highway 141

Coon Rapids, Iowa

• Includes lunch and tour around conservancy grounds

Those interested in participating should RSVP to Angie Carter at (515) 337-3908 or

Nearly half the farmland in Iowa is currently owned or co-owned by women. The Women Caring for the Land program offers a peer-to-peer, informal discussion format to allow women landowners to talk about their individual farm management goals, facilitated by women conservationists.

This response from one recent attendee is typical of our landowners’ experiences: “This has given me some understanding of what my husband talks about. I came to this meeting with no understanding – I am excited about the projects possible to protect the Iowa soil and feel this meeting has helped me in beginning to learn about farming.”

The meetings are co-sponsored by Women, Food and Agriculture and the Raccoon River Watershed Association and are part of WFAN’s Women Caring for the Land program. The meetings are made possible by funding from ToyotaTogetherGreen by Audubon. For more information about this program, visit

Liz Juchems

Top Cover Crops Species for Iowa?

Nashua 5-21 oat mixThere are a lot of cover crop species to choose from and we often receive questions about what species should be planted.

We want to hear from you! 

Help us identify the top cover crop species for Iowa. We will collect the votes and use the top 10 species for a panel discussion at the 2016 Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference January  22-23 in Ames.

Using the poll below to select your top five cover crop species.  You can use the comment section to expand on the list if it is missing from the list or would like to provide more information on your choices.

Liz Juchems

Check out this video of overseeding in action!

On August 27th, Iowa Learning Farms partnered with Hagie Manufacturing and Practical Farmers of Iowa to overseed cover crop demonstration plots in north central Iowa.  Here is some footage from the seeding at the ISU Research Farm near Kanawha.

For more information about overseeding or this research project, check out our earlier blog: Cover Crop Seeding Techniques: Overseeding.

Liz Juchems

From JSWC: Conservation Tillage is not Conservation Agriculture

The Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Sept/Oct 2015 issue published the story “Conservation Tillage is not Conservation Agriculture.” The author, Don C. Reicosky, tries to clean up the gray area of what is considered conservation tillage. He explains the differences in terminology and outcomes of tillage practices from the moldboard plow to no-till, complete with charts and diagrams.

Corn_little-residue“The various practices described as “conservation tillage” have led to terminology confusion. Conservation tillage [CT] is often confused with no-till or variants of CT described in vague terms, such as such as minimum tillage, mulch tillage, ridge tillage, strip tillage, and reduced tillage, where planting is achieved on specially prepared surfaces with various amounts of crop residue cover.

…The significant soil loss from the CT treatments suggests that, despite the accepted 30% residue cover, many types of CT do not adequately protect the soil from raindrop impact and are not sustainable.

…The phrase “conservation tillage” has become, at times, an oxymoron; it sends a mixed and confusing message and gives a misguided sense of entitlement and conservation because of very “loose limits” on the definition of soil disturbance and residue management. Conservation is a word to be respected, revered, and used to describe agriculture, not tillage.”

Reicosky goes on to explain Conservation Agriculture:

39-2_no-till“The definition of CA incorporates system concepts based on three key principles: (1) continuous residue cover on the soil surface; (2) continuous minimum soil disturbance (no-tillage); and (3) diverse crop rotations and cover crop mixes.

…True conservation is more about plant C (residue) management than soil management.

…Without tillage, there are more environmental benefits accrued with fewer input costs over time. Many farmers are finding the hand-in-hand environmental and economic benefits of this systems approach for food security.”

Read the article and locate the tillage practice in the story’s accompanying graphics that you are doing. Are you following the best practices to reduce soil erosion and build organic matter?

— Carol Brown

September Snapshots

As September draws to a close, today’s blog post will take us a photographic tour across the state – snapshots of our past month’s field days, education and outreach efforts, research and demonstration activities, and more. It’s a little glimpse into the day-to-day operations of the Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! teams and the variety of work we do every day as we strive to Build a Culture of Conservation!

September 1 - Hand seeding cover crops into standing corn at the Northwest Iowa Research Farm near Sutherland (check out previous blog posts to learn more)

September 1 – Hand seeding cover crops into standing corn at the Northwest Iowa Research Farm near Sutherland (check out previous blog posts to learn more about our hand seeding process!).


September 2 – Lots of familiar faces at the Conservation Districts of Iowa Annual Conference! Jamie Benning and Liz Juchems chat with attendees about cover crops in their breakout session.

September 2 - Learning about

September 2 – Attendees at the Smeltzer Learning Farm field day learned all about Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the many conservation practices that can help protect water quality and build soil health.


September 3 – A beautiful evening in southwestern Iowa at the Walnut Creek watershed field day! At top, farmer Chris Teachout shares his experience with cover crops, showing how cover crops protect from erosion and benefit water quality.


September 10 – Farmer-partner Tim Smith talks strip tillage at a water quality and cover crop field day hosted by Arliss Nielsen of Woolstock.


September 15 – Lots of enthusiasm as students play the “We Al Live in a Watershed” game at Lucas Co.’s 3rd Grade Outdoor Classroom!


September 17 – Appanoose Co. SWCD commissioner Chuck Moore hosted a good crop of visitors to his farm for the Cooper Creek watershed field day.


September 20 – Sunday morning aerial seeding of cover crops on Dennis Staudt’s field near Marble Rock.


September 21 – A day well spent at the science teachers’ annual conference… chatting with them about school visits, the Water Rocks! Teacher Summit, and more.

150921-Nashua 5-9 Rye Only

September 21 – Baby cover crops (cereal rye shown here) peeking up in the standing corn at Northeast Iowa Research Farm, Nashua.


September 28 – Behind the scenes as we film “Life is a Flyway,” a new music video for Water Rocks!


September 29 – Some great teamwork by 4th graders at Aurora Heights Intermediate School in Newton as they compete in the Six Degrees of Soil game.

We’ll see you in October!

Ann Staudt

Articles from different North American regions offer same advice for soil health

Two articles from publications in vastly different agricultural regions—Canada and Mississippi—discuss the same issues that we face here, in between these geographical areas. Both articles contain excellent reasons why conservation practices are worth doing no matter where you live.

Up North

ILF Juchems 068In the article “Where Water Leaves the Farm,” published in Country Guide (“Canada’s oldest farm publication”), retired farmer Don Lobb offers his point of view on agricultural drainage. This story has a lot of data for the Lake Erie area, but the information on the science of soil health is the same for Iowa—everywhere actually.

“The modern role of subsurface cropland drainage (tile drainage) is much different,” says Lobb. “It’s root-zone soil moisture management. We want a favourable balance of air and water in the root zone, while also maintaining water at the base of the root zone to supply water during dry periods.”

Lobb also gives great reasons how tillage damages soil quality:

“Tilled soils have little or no soil aggregation, and clay soils are almost always compacted,” says Lobb. “With these conditions, subsurface drains can then contribute little to reduce run-off of water sediment and contaminants,” he continues. “When tillage-degraded soil cracks, water easily reaches subsurface drains. This does lead to water degradation in drains and outlet channels, and is really the outcome of bad soil management, not the use of subsurface drains.”

Down South

In the article “Improving Water Use Efficiency Starts With Caring for the Soil,” published in Delta Farm Press, the scarcity of water to nourish crops in Mississippi magnifies the issue of water quality.

“Here in the Mississippi Hills we have to make the most of the water we receive as rainfall during the winter months as well as during the growing season. Very few of the farmers in this region have the capability to provide supplemental water to their crops, so our efforts to increase water use efficiency are not optional but necessary.”

Again, healthy soil is of highest importance for success:

“…we have been forced to learn every practice that can allow our soils to store as much water as possible and that will allow our crops to extract and use as much of that stored water as possible. The strategies involved in this program begin with the soil and include the standard practices of soil fertility, such as liming and fertilizing according to current soil tests, and improving the quality of the soil to raise organic matter levels and increase the activity of beneficial soil organisms such as mycorrhizae and earthworms.”

DSCN9201The two articles have great points, written in plain English, on improving soil health through no-till, cover crops, and allowing time for these practices to take effect.

Although they focus on land far from us, there are many points that we can apply to Iowa farmland.

— Carol Brown

Chatting about corn, soybeans, chickens, sheep, and niche agriculture with Wendy Johnson

Tune in for Episode 12 of the Conservation Chat podcast, in which host Jacqueline Comito visits with beginning farmer Wendy Johnson. Wendy is involved in what many may consider a really unique hybrid farming operation: she raises corn, soybeans, sheep, and hay in a traditional farming operation with her father (Center View Farms) while simultaneously operating her own small, diversified, transitioning-to-organic livestock and small grains farm (Joia Food Farm). Both are located near Charles City, in Floyd County.

Wendy’s story of getting into farming is a fascinating one. She grew up on the family farm, but was quick to leave after graduating high school. Her first stop was the University of Minnesota, where she studied clothing design and merchandising, before jetting off to the likes of Atlanta and Los Angeles where she built her career. While Wendy did regularly come back during the fall to help her dad with harvest (“keeping a toe in the farming operation and learning,” as she puts it), it was actually being away from the farm that eventually drew her back. In Los Angeles, Wendy’s passion and connection with food grew through visits to local farmers markets and as she began planting her own backyard garden. In 2010, timing was right, and everything came full circle as she made the cross-country move back to a quieter life in rural Floyd County, Iowa. Follow Wendy’s successes, challenges, and learning experiences on her blog: .

As in every episode of the Conservation Chat, Jackie asks each guest about their #1newthingforwater for 2015. Wendy actually followed up via email with a whole list of things, so here it is!

“I compost almost everything to prevent it from landing in a landfill.  I’ve planted cover crops on a 1/4 of our acres. We split nitrogen application instead of doing it all in the fall.  We no-till drill our soybeans into standing corn stalks. We filled in a huge sink hole!  That’s why we have that ugly area of the creek that we reseeded but looked like major soil erosion was happening.  We leave no fallowed land.  Everything is covered.  And most of all, I planted a perennial in my organic transition acres and am leaving it in for 2 1/2 years to gain more organic matter and have more biological action happening in my soils.  It holds water more efficiently and cleans it.” – Wendy Johnson

Visit the Conservation Chat website to hear the full podcast interview with beginning farmer Wendy Johnson, and catch up on any other previous podcasts that you’ve missed.

Ann Staudt