It’s time to change, again

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Mark Licht | Assistant Professor of Agronomy and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, Iowa State University

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been involved in several conversations regarding the need for change. Change is hard. It doesn’t matter what the profession. Change brings about anxiety and discontent. We do not like change forced upon us. But, we do accept change when it meets our current wants and needs. Sometimes change can be incremental, and sometimes it can be abrupt.

Since humans first began domesticating plants, agriculture has experienced incremental change. Most of the change focused on agricultural intensification – increasing agricultural production per unit of input. These inputs included labor, land, time, fertilizer, seed and pesticides to name just a few. Mechanization in labor from humans, to horses and oxen, to tractors has allowed greater productivity which led to expansion of land in agricultural production.

Throughout the last 150 years, incremental change has begun to happen more rapidly. Think of how corn production moved from open pollinated, to hybrid, to transgenic cultivars. Iowa led the nation in the adoption of both hybrid and transgenic cultivars. For centuries, fertility needs have been met with animal manure.  We shifted to commercial fertilizers in the mid-1900s and the necessity for livestock in individual production systems was eliminated. Over the last 25 years, precision agriculture advancements have yet again created efficiencies of labor, time and use of chemical inputs (or fertilizers and pesticides). Agricultural intensification has only been possible through change.

Just like changes throughout these 150 years brought greater production and ability to feed more people, we are at another formative point in advancing agricultural systems. Our systems need to be conservation focused. The time to adopt cover crops, conservation tillage, CREP wetlands, saturated buffers, bioreactors, and diverse rotations is now.

Armstrong Farm Strips

What makes this change especially difficult, is the time-frame to change and the pressures weighing on farmers from many directions. Consumers are demanding sustainable practices. Our neighbors in Iowa and beyond are demanding cleaner water and healthier soil. We need to change more abruptly than we would like to sustainably supply the needs of the world’s population now and for many generations.

As I talk to farmers about why they do not make incremental changes towards the adoption of conservation practices, I frequently hear “this is the way we have always done it,” or “I am nearing the end of my career, I will let the next generation make the change.”

These are excuses. We have to be able to see past our own lifetimes. As we look back on the lives of our parents and grandparents, we can see this isn’t the way we have always done it. More importantly, we can’t wait for the next generation to be in charge to change. What about two or three generations to come? Can we think in a longer scope? What will they say when they look back to this time?

Iowa has phenomenal farmers who have been champions for conservation. I am quite confident these farmers see change as an opportunity. Many of these champions have or will be transitioning the farming operation to the next generation. They have made incremental changes to adopt and perfect conservation practices over the course of many years. Often, they are still looking for ways to improve.

Crop production systems need to be changed to provide soil health and nutrient reduction benefits. We need to work together to find the right practices for each farm and each field. Iowa agriculture is in a unique position to lessen the impact of agricultural intensification.

Change is inevitable. To continue with our current systems, is not an option. Let’s continue to innovate together – as Iowa farmers always have. Let’s commit to making the sustainable changes needed while those changes are voluntary and can be made on an individualized basis.

Mark Licht

 

Farming for the Future

ILFHeaderDespite the cold, snowy weather we had a great turnout in Nashua last week for a cover crop and wetland field day that highlighted our ongoing Conservation Learning Lab project being conducted in Floyd and Story County.

Ben and AndyParticipating in the Floyd County site are brothers Andy and Ben Johnson. They grow corn and soybeans and manage a ewe flock and feeder lamb operation. The duo are no strangers to conservation and trying new practices. They began no-tilling soybeans over fifteen years ago and have nearly ten years of experience strip-tilling corn.

Their first experience with cover crops was in 2013 following a wet spring resulting in prevent planting acres. They turned to family farming in a nearby watershed project that had been using cover crops in the systems for advice on how to incorporate them into their farming systems as well.

In 2016, they seeded about 477 acres in the project watershed and have been impressed with the improved water infiltration when cover crops were added to their no-till and strip-till system.

Ben Johnson2

“We are able to get in the field plant and harvest 1-2 days before our neighbors due to improved water infiltration. We have maintained or improved our yields since we reduced our tillage,” stated Ben.

“On top of that, we are saving time, labor and fuel by switching to strip-till for our corn acres,” noted Andy.

When asked about changes in soil organic matter Ben responded, “Our soil is already fairly high, so we don’t see as big of changes as people that are starting with lower organic matter. Cover crops help protect soil. I don’t want to start farming a farm that is 6% (organic matter) and leave it to my kids at 4%.”

Be sure to check out this month’s Conservation Chat to hear directly from Ben and Andy. Jacqueline Comito sat down with them before the field day to discuss the project and more!

-Liz Juchems

 

Getting Conservation in the Hands of Local Citizens

Our newest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast, A Passion for Prairies, features Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s David Stein. He is truly passionate about helping people learn more about their local ecology through on-the-ground outreach across central Iowa. Enthusiastic may be an understatement when it comes to Stein’s zeal and motivation to provide a personal, education-minded, place-based approach to conservation on working lands!

As a Watershed Program Coordinator with the non-profit (former RC&D) Prairie Rivers of Iowa, Stein holds a unique position in that the area he serves here in the heart of Iowa is at the direct interface of urban areas and prime agricultural land. That presents both unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to water quality, soil health, and facilitating corridors of habitat for wildlife.

Stein is particularly passionate about native prairie establishment, and its benefits to reduce runoff, improve water quality, build soil health, and provide habitat/food resources to many species of wildlife. Tune in to the Conservation Chat to hear about Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s targeted efforts to establish corridors of habitat, creating uninterrupted flyways between publicly-owned and privately-owned lands.

Photographs by Prairie Rivers of Iowa

Interested in doing some native landscaping, establishing a pollinator garden, or other native plantings on your land?  Look no farther that Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s Native Plant Seed Bank! Tune in to the podcast to learn more about this awesome new initiative, the brainchild of Stein (and his proudest accomplishment on the job thus far). The seed bank is currently offering 10 different species of native plants (flowers and grasses), and they are accepting deposits of native seed, as well—an incredible conservation resource for central Iowa.

Catch this episode and all previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and through iTunes.

Ann Staudt

 

Farmers Encouraged to Keep the Stubble During No-Till November

RuggedlooktwittergraphicThe Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is once again encouraging Iowa farmers to “keep the stubble” on their harvested crop fields and improve soil health during No-Till November.

First launched in 2017, the NRCS project is mirrored after the national cancer awareness No Shave November campaign that encourages people not to shave during the entire month. The NRCS campaign encourages farmers to keep tillage equipment in their machine sheds this fall and keep the crop stubble on their fields. In the past two years, the campaign has reached more than 1 million people.

“No-till farming is a cornerstone soil health conservation practice, which also promotes water quality while saving farmers time and money,” said Iowa NRCS State Conservationist Kurt Simon. “One of the first soil health principles is ‘do not disturb’. This campaign is a fun way to remind farmers about the important relationship between tillage and soil health.”

Improving soil health increases soil biological activity, which provides erosion control, nutrient benefits, and can simulate tillage.earthwormktwittergraphic“No till is a different management tool because timeliness is very important for planting and weed control. I really like it, though. I like knowing that there is biological activity below the ground. You dig down six inches and the earthworms are there. The worms are my tillage tool,” said No-Till Farmer Gene DeBruin, Mahaska County, Iowa.

The campaign grew from an idea shared by NRCS Area Soil Scientist Neil Sass. “The impact has been much wider-reaching than I’d expected. I’ve seen #StubbleSelfie cutouts in Co-ops and ag services offices, but also in labs, schools and lots of fun media,” he said. “I think that this promotion has been a fun way to draw awareness to Soil Health, just like the OG No Shave November promotion has done for cancer awareness.”

Download your cutout template here!

For more information about soil health and the No-Till November campaign, please go to www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov.

Kicking off the fall field day season!

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While harvest 2019 is proving to be a challenge across the state, it is never to early to make plans for the 2020 crop season. Plan to join us for one of our upcoming fall field days and workshops to get a jump start on your conservation planning for next year!

RSVP to 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu to join us for the free meal offered at each event.

November 7: Cover Crop and Wetland Field Day – Featuring the Conservation Learning Lab Project
12:00-2:00pm
Borlaug Learning Center ISU
3327 290th St
Nashua, IA 50658
Floyd County
Partners: Natural Resources Conservation Services, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Press Release
Flyer

November 21: Cover Crop and Soil Health Field Day
12:00-2:00pm
Jerry Dove Farm
Janesville, IA
Black Hawk County
Partners: Dry Run Creek Watershed, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Natural Resources Conservation Services
Press Release
Flyer

December 3: Cover Crop Workshop
5:30-7:30pm

Titan Machinery
23604 Diagonal Rd
Grundy Center, IA
Partners: Grundy County SWCD, NRCS

December 5: Cover Crop Workshop
10:00am-12:00pm

Luana Savings Bank Community Center
100 Harvest Drive
Luana, IA
Partners: Clayton County SWCD, NRCS, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

 

If you are interested in hosting or partnering on a field day, please contact Liz Juchems at 515-294-5429 or ejuchems@istate.edu.

Save the Date – Future of Agriculture Event November 14

 

WRC-Logo-Color-no-Background-with-WHITE-Glow-500wd-copyOn November 14, 2019, Whiterock Conservancy is hosting a Future of Agriculture event from 8:30am-4:30pm.

Confirmed speakers include:

Location:
Whiterock Conservancy
Bur Oak Visitors’ Center
1436 Hwy 141
Coon Rapids, IA

Note: Each speaker will have about an hour presentation with time allocated for questions and discussion. Networking Lunch 12 noon -1 p.m. Lunch provided.

Suggested contribution per person is $30 which includes lunch. Students ½ price. Participation limited to first 50 registrations.

Call 712-790-8221 x1 to register or register online.
Regular registration
Student registration 

Call 712-292-8640 if you have questions. Lodging/camping available at Whiterock Conservancy.

Water Rocks! Annual Report Reflects Impacts on Students Across Iowa

The annual school visit evaluation report from Water Rocks! highlights comprehension increases among youth, outreach to new schools and underserved counties, and accolades from teachers

Water Rocks! has published its 2018-2019 School Visits Evaluation Report, detailing the impacts Water Rocks! visits had on students, teachers, and conservation education during the 2018-19 academic year. Water Rocks! teams conducted 197 school visits, 17 more than the previous year, and participated in 13 outdoor classrooms, one more than the previous year. Having identified 11 priority counties that have had limited exposure to Water Rocks!, the team redoubled efforts to connect with schools in these underserved areas – garnering success in eight of the targeted counties.

Water Rocks! is a uniquely Iowan youth conservation and water quality education program that uses a creative mix of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), music and the arts to connect with students in grades K-12 with science-based information about Iowa’s natural resources and ecosystems. Through high-energy classroom presentations, outdoor classroom programs and school assemblies, Water Rocks! energized nearly 33,000 youth during the school year.

With a keen eye on constant improvement, Water Rocks! uses several assessment tools to gather feedback from teachers and students. Among the teachers’ comments were “engaging to the entire class,” “reinforced the ecosystem unit,” and “retention of the information was amazing!” In addition, assessments before and after lessons showed improved comprehension among students for almost all programs when compared to the previous year.

“This report is a guidepost to improving how we teach these important lessons and assure we are delivering the most value in the short time we are with the students,” said Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! director. “The assessments help us identify topics that need more repetition to plant the ideas and concepts more firmly in the students’ minds. We are working with the future leaders and decision-makers for our state, and we feel our role is crucial to building awareness of conservation and water quality for future generations.”


Key findings in the report include:

  • Presented in 197 schools and 13 outdoor classrooms, reaching 32,800 students
  • Key topic comprehension levels increased 40 percentage points or more in all programs when comparing students’ pre- and post-lesson evaluations
  • Of teachers attending Water Rocks! assemblies, 99% would recommend the program to peers

To read the report, learn about assessment methods or to view comments from students and teachers, please visit https://www.waterrocks.org/201819-water-rocks-evaluation-report.