Water Rocks!: The Man

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Jack Schilling, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2017-2018.

Another month has passed by, and with it another month of exciting adventures for me with Water Rocks! Assemblies, classroom visits, and lots of fun all along the way. But on top of these, there is one other thing that I have been working on throughout the past month: our new-old video series, Water Rocks! Man.

New-old. What do I mean by that? Water Rocks! Man originally aired on the Water Rocks! Facebook page in the spring and summer of 2016. Some were short music videos, and others were quick messages about conservation, with our superhero, Water Rocks! Man, featured in each video. Then, like all great superheroes, he retired from a life of heroism, and the series was retired with him.

Fast forward to the present day. Water Rocks! Man (Todd Stevens) has finally come back from retirement, and is ready to teach students about conservation once more. But now, Doctor Pollution (Nate Stevenson) has risen to try and spread pollution wherever he goes, and Water Rocks! Man, along with Agent Ag (Megan Koppenhafer), must stop him while educating about conservation practices.

Throughout the process of filming Water Rocks! Man, although the weather has occasionally not been kind to us (superhero and agent clothing is not warm!), everyone has enjoyed themselves and I’m excited to share the first few episodes soon. The project has certainly kept me busy, as I write, direct, film, and edit every episode. I really enjoy working on videos, especially editing, so it’s been a blast!

Keep an eye out for new Water Rocks! Man episodes throughout the next few months. I, along with the rest of the cast, hope you enjoy them!

Jack Schilling

 

Iowa Learning Farms Webinar to Explore Lessons Learned from Using Cover Crops to Reduce Nitrate Losses

DSCN0571Even with excellent nutrient management, nitrate losses from corn and soybean fields can occur because these cash crops only grow and take up nitrate and water for five months of the year. Cover crops like winter rye can be an effective strategy for reducing nitrate losses to groundwater or tile drainage because they can take up water and nitrate during the period between harvest and planting of the next year’s crop.

Dr. Tom Kaspar, Plant Physiologist at the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, will share his lessons learned over his storied career researching the use of cover crops and no-till to improve water quality and soil health in corn and soybean production systems.

DATE: Wednesday, December 13, 2017
TIME: 12:00 noon
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Log on as a guest shortly before 12:00 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

Why the delivery scale?

When it comes to monitoring water quality, there are quite a number of factors to consider: What are you monitoring for? How is land utilized within the targeted area?  How, when, where, and for how long will water samples be collected? Under what flow conditions? The scale at which you monitor really makes a difference!

The plot scale is valuable for looking at the impacts of specific in-field management practices. Plot scale (or field-scale) monitoring is where most of the pollutant export and delivery data come from that informed the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Treatments can also be easily replicated on the plot scale. However, it’s challenging to properly scale up plot-level measurements to the area of practice implementation to truly assess water quality impacts across landscapes and with multiple practices.

Monitoring on the watershed scale allows us to look at the collective impacts over a much larger land area.  For instance, watershed-scale monitoring provides a broad picture of water quality challenges and aids in the identification of impaired waters. When monitoring on the watershed scale, measurements inherently include what’s happening on the land (field scale practices), plus field-to-stream transport, plus in-stream processes (bed and bank processes).  It certainly provides a comprehensive look the big picture, but you can’t “sort” out the different contributions of what’s happening in-field versus in-stream.

In between these two lies the delivery scale.  Delivery scale monitoring occurs at the point where water is delivered to a creek or stream. For instance, with drainage research, this would be the point where the tile main surfaces and water empties into a stream. In a nutshell, the delivery scale reflects the direct water quality impacts from an agricultural area, minus the potential confounding effects of in-stream processes like bed and bank erosion. Here at the Iowa Learning Farms, we’d argue that this is truly a sweet spot for looking at the impacts of specific conservation practices.

You need to monitor at the delivery scale if you want to know specifically what the agricultural impacts are.  That’s exactly what we’re striving towards with the Conservation Learning Labs project.

Within a small watershed area (several hundred acres), can we get a substantial percentage of producers adopting a conservation practice, like cover crops, and then measure corresponding water quality improvements at the delivery scale?  Modeling suggests so, and this project will quantify what nutrient load reductions are actually realized thanks to large scale, targeted adoption of cover crops.

Cover crops were seeded for the first time in fall 2017 within our two Conservation Learning Labs project sites.  Stay tuned for results as we look at the water quality (and soil health) impacts of substantial cover crop adoption on the delivery scale!

Ann Staudt

New Team Member

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The Osborn family

Hi all! My name is Brianne Osborn and I am the new Communication Specialist with Iowa Learning Farms and the Water Rocks! program. I have a degree in Graphic Design from Iowa State and several years experience in marketing for education.

I am a lifelong Cyclone and grew up right here in Story County where I participated in 4H. I enjoy photography, reading (especially mystery novels), genealogy and love any reason to get dressed up!

I look forward to using my skills to help spread the important message of conservation!

Brianne Osborn

Conservation Chat: We must clean up our water sources voluntarily

Ben&Amy Johnson2

Ben Johnson and his wife Amy.

This month, host Jacqueline Comito has a conversation with a farmer in northeast Iowa. Ben Johnson is a sixth generation farmer that purchased his first farm with his brother Andy when he was a sophomore at Iowa State University. Conservation saves him one of his most valued resources on the farm: time.

Johnson takes part in our Conservation Learning Lab program with a small scale watershed and CREP wetland on a neighbors property. He and his family began using cover crops in 2013, a year that had a terribly wet spring. They had 200-300 acres that were too wet to plant and didn’t want them to sit bare all year so they took an old seeder and ran oats and radishes that August. He noticed an improvement in the soil tilth right away and in the beans produced that fall. 2013 was also the year that they introduced strip-tilling, increasing water absorption and yield in those areas.

Other conservation methods Johnson employs are buffer strips, prairie CRP, pollinator habitats, field windbreaks and a pheasant safe program. Johnson says, “The easiest place for somebody to start is no-tilling their beans. They don’t really seem to respond to tillage and it’s such a labor and money eater. That’s the biggest reason we switched. The most precious resource on my farm is time.”

“I hope my kids can be the seventh generation (to farm) so it means a lot to me to leave the land in as good or better shape than it was when I started,” that means the soil needs to be productive and the water needs to run clear “I want all my black soil still on top of my hills and not at the bottom of all of them, not in my road ditches and not in the Cedar River.”

Listen to this Episode of Conservation Chat to learn about the numerous benefits of strip-till, no-till and cover crops and how easy it can be to get started! You can subscribe to the podcast for future episodes as well.

Brianne Osborn

Cover Crop Crop Insurance Demonstration Project

This article was originally published on Clean Water Iowa’s website.

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Crop insurance is an integral part of the farm safety net that provides protection for farmers after bad weather impacts their crops. Cover crops can help prevent erosion and improve water quality and soil health; among other benefits.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and partners worked with the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) to establish a 3 year demonstration project aimed at expanding usage of cover crops in Iowa.

Through this project IDALS will provide $5/acre for cover crops to eligible applicants. Funding will be provided through RMA as an additional insurance premium discount through normal crop insurance processes. The new premium reduction will be available for fall-planted cover crops with a spring-planted cash crop. Some policies may be excluded, such as Whole-Farm Revenue Protection or those covered through written agreements. Participating farmers must follow all existing good farming practices required by their policy and work with their insurance agent to maintain eligibility.

Sign up is currently open until 5:00 pm on January 15, 2018, for farmers and landowners to certify cover crop acres for the program. Sign up to begin the application process. Please note that cover crop acres currently enrolled in state and/or federal programs are not eligible for this program.

For more information, please see the Program Rules, Frequently Asked Questions, or contact IDALS.

Julie Whitson

“Chipping Away” at What We Don’t Know About Bioreactors

LauraLast week, Dr. Laura Christianson joined us for our monthly Iowa Learning Farms webinar. Christianson has nine years of experience focused on agricultural drainage water quality and denitrification bioreactors for point and nonpoint nitrogen treatment.

Bioreactors: What We Know

Laura’s experience with bioreactors over the past nine years has led her to study bioreactors with many shapes, sizes and designs. She authored in a meta-analysis on bioreactors that synthesized existing research.

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For bioreactor basics, the meta-analysis found that bioreactors can remove an average of 25-45% of the annual N load leaving a field, although a range of 10% to 100% of N load reduction has been seen. The cost of a bioreactor that treats 50 acres was approximately $10,000. The analysis also found that woodchips in a bioreactor can last approximately 10 years, but a range of 7-15 years has been seen. The woodchips need to be changed not because the bioreactor is running out of a carbon source, but because woodchip degradation causes hydraulic performance decline within the bioreactor. The meta-analysis also investigated different factors that impact nitrate removal effectiveness in a bioreactor. Some of these factor are:

Hydraulic retention time
Water should be retained within a bioreactor for a minimum of six hours. Great visuals and an explanation are covered in the webinar.

Water temperature and age of bioreactor

Water tempWater lower than 43 degrees F affect nitrate load reduction potential. In the first year, bioreactors are incredibly efficient at N load reduction as microbes begin to feast on available carbon and dissolved oxygen in the water. However, Laura says, “Once your bioreactor is more than a year old, that’s when you really settle in to know what your long-term nitrate removal performance is going to be.”

Porosity of the woodchips
wood_creditThere was no significant difference in N removal when using different types of wood (hardwood vs. softwood) in a bioreactor. However, the physical properties of the wood matter. Use chips with particles size between ½ inch and two inches instead of shredded or mulched wood.

 

Bioreactors: The Future

Future research on bioreactors is moving us beyond the first generation of bioreactors.

Bioreactors with bafflesbaffles_credit
Plastic baffles in the bioreactor route the water through the woodchips so all woodchips are utilized in the denitrification process.

 

Paired_creditPaired bioreactors
Two bioreactors are installed side-by-side. One serves as the primary bioreactor, and bypass water from the primary bioreactor is routed to a second bioreactor to continue N removal on bypass water that would normally not be treated.

in-ditch_creditIn-ditch bioreactors
For areas with ditch drainage, the bottom of the ditch is excavated, woodchips are placed, and wooden check bands are installed incrementally throughout the length of the treated ditch bed.

 

PfilterBioreactors paired with
phosphorous-absorbing filters

Water is routed through a phosphorous-absorbing filter prior to its entry into the bioreactor.

 

If you would like to brush up on your bioreactor knowledge, don’t miss this webinar!

Julie Whitson