Mapping Tile Drain Systems: Using Technology to Find Grandpa’s Tile

How can you find old tile lines without spending hours digging holes? During our webinar on Wednesday, Kevin Erb, Conservation Professional Training Program coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension, discussed available strategies and tools, most of which use information that the farmer already has, or that is readily available.

Knowing where old tile lines are located makes upgrading easier, and due to the connectedness of tile systems, the impacts of tile issues can stretch beyond the field or property line. Erb shared some history of tiling, explaining that due to the difficulty of installing clay or concrete, tile systems were not installed in neat grid patterns, but instead from wet spot to wet spot, which can make locating them difficult generations later.

Erb explained that air photos can be a helpful tool, but that not everything that looks like tile on old air photos is tile. Because of this, it’s important to look at multiple years of air photos to determine what actually is tile. GIS software can be helpful to overlay the years of photos if you have it available, but you can also assess air photos by hand, by comparing multiple years of photos side-by-side. Google Earth’s time machine function allows you to click through multiple years of data, which can enable you to see things that show up on some years, but not on others, due to soil moisture and temperature variations.

Air photos of a farm during three different years

With combinations of air photos, lower-level drone photos, and field observations, you’ll start to be able to map out where the drainage tiles are located. It’s also important to mark the location of tile blowouts when you see those in fields, to better understand the system. Yield maps can also be useful tools for determining drainage tile locations. Once you’ve started to create your tile map, yield data can help you located areas of unmapped tile and help you identify areas where your tile might not be working well.

As you build your tile map, Erb suggested color coding the tile lines by the sources through which you found them. This can help you see where there might be data missing and may help you identify areas that you need to do further research on to find the tile lines. It is also helpful to map more than just your field, including at least every field next to yours, if not the entire section, so that you can better understand the complete picture of tile drainage in your field.

To learn more about creating a tile map, other non-Google sources of air photos, the Budweiser/Euchre method, and other technology that can be used to map tile lines, such as ground penetrating radar, watch the full webinar!

Join us on Wednesday, December 9 at noon for “The Cost and Benefits of Agricultural Water Conservation: An Economist’s Perspective,” a webinar presented by Wendong Zhang, assistant professor and extension economist at Iowa State University.

Hilary Pierce

Virtual Field Day December 10: Wetlands Key to Middle Cedar Watershed and State Goals

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free wetland virtual field day on Thursday, December 10th at 1 p.m. CST.

The virtual field day will highlight public and private partnerships working together to implement wetlands to reduce flooding and improve water quality in the Middle Cedar Watershed and beyond. Join us for a live conversation with Adam Rodenberg, Project Coordinator for the Middle Cedar Watershed, and Matt Lechtenberg, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Water Quality Coordinator.

Wetlands provide a wide variety of benefits on the landscape and are an important tool in reaching Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals. Not only do these wetlands filter out sediment, they also reduce nitrate concentrations through the natural denitrification process. Additionally, wetlands can store water and the newly constructed sites in the Middle Cedar play a key role in reducing flooding within the watershed and downstream. These areas also provide critical wildlife habitat and beauty to the landscape.

“Using wetland design standards similar to the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), the wetland featured during the live event is helping accomplish our project goals of flood reduction downstream,” noted Rodenberg. “The project also offered a unique opportunity to work with the landowner to safely meet their livestock grazing goals and expand on their previous efforts to more effectively manage water on the site.”

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CST on December 10th, click HERE or visit http://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

December 2 Webinar: Mapping Tile Drain Systems: Using Technology to Find Grandpa’s Tile

Using readily available information to map drainage tile is the topic of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, December 2 at noon.

Drainage tile is typically ignored after installation, until a problem develops, or the farmer wants to add onto the system. While there are unique ways of finding tile when you need to, such as witching, pressurizing, and smoking, there are also a number of strategies and tools that farmers can use to locate drain tile without digging a dozen holes with a backhoe.

Kevin Erb, Conservation Professional Training Program coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension, will discuss these strategies and the tools available. Most of the tools use information that the farmer already has, or that is readily available.

“One of the more frustrating parts of farming is spending the better part of a day (or more) digging random holes with a backhoe to find old drain tile. And waiting until the poorly drained areas show up on next fall’s yield maps means lost yield and profit. Investing time now and mapping out your tile systems is a worthwhile investment that will save time in the future,” said Erb. “There are free and low-cost options that make locating older tile systems simpler than ever before. And it can be fun to combine yield maps, air photos, and other resources to make it happen.”

In addition to managing the Conservation Professional Training Program, Erb’s extension programming includes manure management, soil moisture management, drainage, soil health, and managing agricultural systems in karst areas.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CST on December 2:

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 (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Can Moments of Awe and Gratitude Improve the Environment?

During the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, November 25, Jacqueline Comito, an anthropologist and the director of Iowa Learning Farms, defined awe and gratitude and investigated what science says about how experiences of awe and expressions of gratitude can impact environmental attitudes and behaviors.

Comito explored the importance of nature, awe, and gratitude to human health, including emotional well-being, and sense of space. She explained how experiencing awe can lead to “paradigm-shifting discoveries and new technologies” and examined the relationship between awe, gratitude, and environmentalism.

To learn more about the science behind awe and gratitude and their relationship with environmentalism, watch the full webinar here!

Join us on Wednesday, December 2 at noon for the webinar “Mapping Tile Drain Systems: Using Technology to Find Grandpa’s Tile” presented by Kevin Erb, Conservation Professional Training Program coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension.

Hilary Pierce

November 25 Webinar: Can Moments of Awe and Gratitude Improve the Environment?

Join Iowa Learning Farms on Wednesday, November 25 at noon for an engaging, interactive, and motivational webinar about how moments of awe and gratitude can improve the environment.

Jacqueline Comito, an anthropologist and the director of Iowa Learning Farms, will define awe and gratitude and will explore what science says about how experiences of awe and expressions of gratitude can impact environmental attitudes and behaviors.

During the webinar, Comito will discuss the ways that we might integrate the tools of awe and gratitude into our environmental work when it seems like real change is eluding us.

 “When we look at the environmental crises we are facing, it is clear that our bodies, minds, and souls are more disintegrated with the natural world than more fully integrated. The transformation we need is to reverse that. How do we do it?” asks Comito.

To learn more about the science of awe and gratitude and how they can be used as tools to improve the environment, tune in to this unique webinar on November 25!

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CST on November 25:

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.

Hilary Pierce

Managing Stormwater in the Urban Landscape—Don’t Run Off!

John McMaine, assistant professor and water management engineer extension state specialist at South Dakota State University, was the presenter of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday. During the webinar, McMaine explored urban stormwater management and the effect that low impact development can have on water quantity and quality.

McMaine explained how even small increases in impervious surfaces can have dramatic impacts on how much runoff there is. Water quantity then goes from being infiltration dominated to being runoff dominated, which can also lead to water quality problems.

Urban development leads to an increase in impervious area, which in turn increases peak flow and total water volume. New pollutants are also introduced to the area and there is no barrier that prevents these pollutants from reaching the water bodies. Changes in precipitation and climate can also impact the urban water cycle.

In order to address these issues, structural and non-structural practices can be used. Structural practices include the use of rain gardens, rain collection barrels, permeable pavers, and more. Non-structural practices include maximizing green spaces, minimizing impermeable surfaces, and protecting native soils, among others. While these practices can potentially benefit everyone, it can be difficult to know who is responsible for their implementation and the costs associated.

To learn more about low impact development and urban stormwater management, watch the full webinar!

We have many great webinars available here, including this one from May that discusses specific urban stormwater management practices.

Join us on Wednesday, November 25 at noon for the webinar “Can Moments of Awe and Gratitude Improve the Environment?” presented by Jacqueline Comito, an anthropologist and the director of Iowa Learning Farms.

Hilary Pierce

County Park Adventure Series Promotes Outdoor Recreation and Exploration

Unique guides to county parks and wildlife areas across Iowa provide families and youth with a roadmap to learning and exploration outdoors and close to home

Water Rocks! has launched its County Park Adventure Series, providing activity guides and outdoor adventure suggestions at county parks and wildlife areas throughout Iowa. Covering one park in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, the adventure series guides offer detailed information about each park including amenities and suggested age-appropriate family and youth activities to aid in exploring the natural world in each location.

During 2020, Iowa’s state parks have seen record attendance due to both the centennial celebration of Iowa State Parks and the shutdown of many recreational sites and activities. This project was intentionally focused on county parks to encourage folks to learn about and explore nature’s beauty at these lesser-known, less-visited destinations while maintaining physical distancing without the crowds seen at state parks.

“After spring school closures and a summer of isolation, many families are feeling stifled and cooped up, and as winter approaches, we are excited to help them take advantage of local outdoor destinations that can be enjoyed year-round,” said Jacqueline Comito, executive director of Water Rocks!. “Every season offers adventure and natural beauty in Iowa. Whether identifying animal tracks in the snow, hunting for the first signs of spring, or enjoying fall colors, these less-traveled parks are a great resource  for all of us. With a guide to a local park in hand, visitors can explore and learn together while enjoying the outdoors – and escaping the indoors.”

Containing park-specific family friendly activities, each original activity guide offers families and youth fun ways to learn about their environment while enjoying the beauty of Iowa’s parks and recreational areas. Visit the Water Rocks! website’s County Park Adventure Series page to select a county and download an activity guide.

During the summer of 2020, the Water Rocks! summer interns imagined, created, and developed the county park adventure project. Fanning out across the state, they explored and developed unique activities for each park they visited. According to intern Riley Wilgenbusch, “While reaching all 99 counties was challenging, getting out across the state gave us all a huge opportunity to see and learn about Iowa’s different landscapes and ecosystems. And we are all very proud that the resulting series of guides are a great asset for those interested in exploring parks near and far.”

“This project came about as we responded to the sudden closures and restrictions related to COVID-19, but we are delighted with the guides and hope they can be a resource for Iowans for many years,” said Comito. “This is one of those situations where a sudden disruption to our summer plans resulted in an unexpected, yet beneficial, outcome. Our interns discovered many of Iowa’s hidden gems and we will all benefit from their adventures.”

To view or download County Park Adventure Series activity guides, visit the Water Rocks! website’s County Park Adventure Series page.

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Virtual Field Day November 24: Making Cover Crops and Strip-Tillage Work in the Des Moines Lobe

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day with Mark Thompson, Webster County farmer who is making cover crops and strip-tillage work in the Des Moines Lobe on Tuesday, November 24th at 1 p.m. CST.

Located in the heart of the Des Moines Lobe, known for the rich, dark soil, Thompson has been utilizing no-till on all soybean acres and strip-till on his corn acres since 2002. During the virtual field day, Thompson will share his experiences figuring out which strip-till tools and timing of operations work best for his system.

“At first, it was an economics thing, then I found out that conservation, nutrient management and erosion control came along with it,” said Thompson. “If you have never tried no-till, try some no-till beans. You will be shocked how well it works and how easy it is – just hesitate to do any tillage in the fall and plant right into the corn stalks.”

Thompson first started using cover crops as a prevented planting measure in 2013. Observing the benefits to the land and reduction in soil erosion, he has continued to increase his use of cover crops acres and now raises cereal rye to provide cover crop seed to the rest of his farm. Thompson also takes a conservation approach as a professional farm manager and encourages the increased adoption of practices like cover crops and strip-till across the state.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on November 24th, 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

November 18 Webinar: Don’t Run off!—Managing Stormwater in the Urban Landscape

The Iowa Learning Farms webinar at noon on Wednesday, November 18 will explore urban water management and low impact development.  

Most rainfall in an urban area becomes runoff, which leads to greater peak flow and runoff volume than before the land was developed. Low impact development (LID), also known as green infrastructure or green stormwater infrastructure, is a paradigm of managing urban runoff by mimicking pre-development hydrology.

During this webinar, John McMaine, assistant professor and water management engineer extension state specialist at South Dakota State University, will explore how much impact LID can really have, the costs and benefits of the practice, and will challenge how we think about urban water management.

“Even small increases in impervious area (roofs, driveways, roads, parking lots) can lead to significant water quality and quantity issues. LID stormwater management mitigates these issues by restoring predevelopment hydrology,” said McMaine.

McMaine works with water management and water quality across agricultural and urban settings to research and develop practical water-centered solutions and empower stakeholders to implement strategies that improve water quality and quantity issues.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CST on November 18:

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.

Hilary Pierce

Finding the Right Fit for Soil Health Practices

Our webinar on Wednesday featured Dr. Abbey Wick, North Dakota State University soil health specialist and associate professor, who shared soil health approaches farmers have used in the northern plains and how they’ve tweaked those approaches to achieve their goals.

Wick explained the importance of creating the right mindset to try out new soil health practices and being willing to adjust the approach in order to meet the on-farm goals. She shared the experiences of farmers who she has worked with, both what practices they’ve tried, and also the lessons that they’ve learned. Some of the lessons learned that were highlighted were:

  • Pick your goal
  • Ask questions
  • Treat cover crop like a cash crop
  • Cover crop by soil texture
  • Find out why something worked or didn’t work
  • Try things out on your worst acres
  • Simple is okay
  • Share what you’re learning with others and get their input

Wick explained these lessons learned, along with many other during the webinar. She also shared some positives results of soil health practices that farmers are seeing, such as improved water management during wet spring and fall periods and noticeable soil health improvements in clay soils.

To learn more about finding the right fit for soil health practices, watch the full webinar here!

Join us next week, on Wednesday November 18 at noon, for a webinar with John McMaine, assistant professor and water management engineer extension state specialist at South Dakota State University, titled “Don’t Run off!—Managing Stormwater in the Urban Landscape.”

Hilary Pierce