Chatting about Conservation with Sharon Krause – From Farm to Community

When it comes to conservation, Sharon Krause, strives for a comprehensive approach. As owner and operator of Dalla Terra Ranch, a grass fed organic lamb operation, and a member of the Earlham community, she has a love for preserving soil and water as well as town heritage and pride.

In the 30th episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito met with Sharon, a native Iowan, to discuss her passion for lambs, healthy lands and her local community.

Sharon KrauseSharon’s motivation for conservation and the love of the outdoors is credited to her parents who encouraged her to get outside and explore the world around her.  They also supported her as she pursued her engineering degree at Iowa State University.

Upon graduation, she was the first female engineer hired at the Firestone in Des Moines and helped launch their recycling program.  Her career then led her to Metro Waste Authority where she pioneered their Curb It! Program that made household recycling easier which has led to increased participation. Before the program began in 1994, an average of 8 pounds per household was recycled each week. In 2015, nearly 28,000 tons of material were recycled through the program.

From working a tire manufacturing plant to a landfill and now a farm, Sharon and her husband, Kyle, joke that “she is not having fun if she’s not dirty!”

Sharon began her lamb operation about 10 years ago and as a former engineer, she is using data and research to help make decisions. The operation maintains about 225 ewes that throw nearly 400 lambs each year.  Using a smart phone app, she analyzes her operation’s performance by tracking time spent in each of the 23 smaller pastures of the larger 153 acres of pasture that the lambs rotational graze.

“I very intensely rotationally graze my animals over the course of the year. You want to be very care that you don’t let your foliage get too short. That’s very hard on the root system and there’s not enough leaf area to take in the sunshine. So the shorter you graze your pastures, the less production you are really going to get.”

In addition to implementing conservation practices on her land, Sharon is helping lead a project to revitalize the Bricker-Price Block on Main Street Earlham.  Through community input, the project aims to provide a farm-to-table restaurant, community center and a youth gathering space.  The conservation of the building’s history will help tell the story of the city and strengthen the vitality of the rural community.

Tune in to Episode 30 of the Conservation Chat for more of this great conversation with Sharon Krause!  You can also download or listen to any of the previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and on iTunes.

Liz Juchems

 

Working Together to Educate Youth in Dubuque

A few weeks back, the 4th and 5th students at St. Anthony and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Schools in Dubuque were treated to high energy, highly interactive presentations from Water Rocks! … but these presentations were particularly special in that they featured a couple of local rock stars in the conservation world!

The Back Story:
As our Water Rocks! visit to St. Anthony & OLG was approaching, I realized it was going to be a pretty tight week for our small staff, and I’d likely be handling the event solo. However, situations like this also present the opportunity to partner with other conservation stakeholders across the state, and even better when it’s someone that’s already been trained on Water Rocks! materials.

Bev Wagner, with the Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency, has participated in multiple Water Rocks! workshops in the past, including the Water Rocks! Summit, so she has been trained on a variety of the unique hands-on games and activities that we utilize in the classroom. Knowing I was headed to Dubuque, I knew exactly who to call upon!

I connected with Bev right away to see if she might be available to help out and co-present with me, and within a matter of minutes, she responded, “I am available the whole day and would love to help out.” With a smiley face. :)

A few days in advance of my trip to Dubuque, Bev contacted me and asked if her student helper, Ruth, an education student at Loras College, could also come and help out. YES, absolutely!

Fast Forward to Game Day:
Bev, Ruth and I met 30 minutes ahead of time, getting everything loaded into the classroom, set up for the interactive presentation, and we quickly talked through the content. Our topic of the day was The Wonderful World of Wetlands (read more about it in our earlier blog post Wetlands Outreach: Tools of the Trade). The first class of the day, I took the lead in presenting; Bev and Ruth observed while also actively assisting with handing out materials to the students, awarding prizes, etc.

With one class under our belts, Bev and Ruth were both feeling more comfortable with the content, so from that point forward, we tag-teamed the entire 50-minute presentation. We started off with an audio listening tour of wetlands, describing the creatures that live there and what the environment might look like. Ruth showed the class an image of wetlands as we connected that with the listening field trip the students had just gone on. Bev guided the students in talking through all of the different names that wetlands go by, calling on students to share one of the names and then saying it out loud together as a class.

We then jumped in with the characteristics that make wetlands unique (hydric soils, presence of water, and vegetation). That was followed by the 3 jobs that wetlands perform – there were 3 of us, so each one took a job (and its corresponding prop) and explained it to the class!  I started off with a filter (water purification), Ruth followed with a sponge (water storage), and Bev concluded with the house (representing habitat).

Bev and Ruth led the classes in discussing the amazing diversity of plants, animals, microorganisms, and other life found in wetlands – as much biodiversity in Iowa’s wetlands as is found in the Amazon rainforest!  We talked about how wetlands are especially important to migratory creatures – birds and butterflies.

Students then got the opportunity to summon their inner birds for an intense game of Habitat Hopscotch!  Bev was the keeper of the (infamous) “situation jar” which housed different situations that impacted wetlands, while Ruth and I acted as the “bird police,” ensuring that students were landing in the correct squares and sending them to bird prison when they stepped out. Being a Catholic school, one of the 4th grade students asked if instead of bird prison, could we call it “bird heaven”? Priceless!

After 5-6 rousing rounds of Habitat Hopscotch, it was pretty clear that the loss of wetlands has a serious impact on migratory birds. Iowa has lost ~90% of its original wetlands, so that means protecting the remaining 10% of wetlands is critically important!

One 5th grade student responded, “I think we all need to #(HASHTAG) Save The Wetlands!

It was then time to move on to our other big game, Wetlands BINGO!  Again, Bev and Ruth were awesome helpers. Bev was our official BINGO caller, while Ruth and I called out the names of corresponding creatures found in wetlands. Each one of us chipped in with fun facts about the different creatures, as well as sharing which ones were our favorites. When a student got a BINGO, we worked together to come up with a simple trivia question to test their knowledge before awarding a prize from our treasure chest. The 50 minutes with each class passes by so quickly with all the games and hands-on activities involved!

By the end of the day, we had presented to five different classes of students, and I’m pleased to say that not only did the students have a whole lot of fun, they also learned a whole lot about wetland ecosystems and their importance on our landscape. Further, this school visit was a great success in terms of the collaborative teaching effort – a win-win all around!  Bev and Ruth were awesome to work with, and it was fantastic to have local conservation personnel involved helping out with Water Rocks! as well as connecting with the local teachers and students. We look forward to more opportunities like this in the future. All in all, it was a great success —  one of those days when you go home really feeling like you made a difference. And that’s a great feeling.

Ann Staudt

Can cereal rye cover crops suppress weeds?

A question recently arrived in my email inbox: What is the potential for weed suppression when using cereal rye cover crops?

To help answer the question, I reached out to Dr. Bob Hartzler, ISU Extension Weed Specialist and Professor of Agronomy, and Meaghan Anderson, ISU Extension Field Agronomist.


There is pretty good evidence that a thick, consistent Slide1stand of cereal rye can effectively suppress winter annual weeds.  In soybeans, rye with even cover and a lot of biomass (>4000 lb/ac) may provide some early season weed suppression, but generally the weeds will begin to emerge as the cereal rye breaks down.

Ann and I saw this first hand yesterday (photos below) when visiting our long term rye site in Page County to collection biomass samples. In the cereal rye strips only one or two field pennycress plants were found. However, in the neighboring strips without cover crops, the winter annual weed was thriving.

No evidence yet that cereal rye will help control perennial weeds, but it may help Slide2suppress perennial weeds germinating from seed or perennial rootstalks like dandelion, Canada thistle, field horsetail, etc.  Perennials normally develop from established root structures with a lot more energy reserves, so they are going to be tolerant of the competition from the cover crop.  If repeatedly used, cover crops could provide some suppression of things like dandelion and such.

Whether or not it provides some suppression or control of  resistant weeds would depend on whether those weeds fall into the categories listed above (early-season weeds or winter annuals) and whether the cover crop stand is consistent.

To keep up to date on weed issues, follow Dr. Hartzler on Twitter @ISUWeeds!

Liz Juchems

Now Available! Evaluating Cover Crop Seeding Techniques Publication

Seeding Tech LocationsThe Iowa Cover Crop Working Group (ICCWG) has wrapped up a two-year study evaluating planting techniques for the successful establishment of cover crop mixtures and single species in Iowa. We are grateful to our partners: Hagie Manufacturing Company, famer partner Tim Smith, and Iowa State University Northern Research and Demonstration Farm.

Replicated cover crop strips were established in fall of 2014 and 2015 to compare three different seeding techniques:

Evaluation was completed through fall and spring biomass collection and crop yield. A no cover crop plot was included in the replications as a yield comparison check strip.

The mixtures species were selected based on the upcoming crop and their winter hardiness. Because the species seeds are different sizes, a goal of one million seeds per acre was used for seeding calibration to provide a fair comparison between treatments.

Seeding Mixtures

Oats and rye win the day

Results show that earlier seeding with the high clearance interseeder resulted in more cover crop biomass, both fall and spring, than the later seeding with a drill. For Iowa, oats and rye work better than any other species tested at this time. The single species (oats and rye) resulted in more total biomass than the mixtures providing better soil erosion protection. Oats and rye were also the predominant species in the mixtures, accounting for the majority of the biomass.

Seeding Tech Biomass

There are no statistical differences in corn or soybean yields across the different cover crop treatments and no cover check plots. This yield neutral response following a cover crop is consistent with a long term ICCWG cereal rye cover crop project now entering its ninth year.

The publication is now available online and at upcoming ILF field days.

This research project was made possible with a State Conservation Innovation Grant through the Iowa Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The ICCWG includes core members from: Iowa Learning Farms, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Reducing Nutrient Losses While Building Iowa’s Soils and Economy

Today’s guest post is by Marty Adkins, Assistant State Conservationist for Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a member of the Iowa Learning Farms Steering Committee.

Iowa’s soils are globally precious and unique. These soils are the cornerstone of a vibrant and productive farming sector and make Iowa’s overall economy strong.  Protecting and building the productive capacity of Iowa’s soils is essential to Iowa’s future.  Happily, many of the same practices that help protect and build soils also have a positive impact on water quality.  This is especially true of cover crops, crop rotations that include small grains and forages, and no-tillage and strip-tillage planting.

Marty Adkins and his other passion in life; playing the ukulele.

The widespread adoption of cover crops will require increased availability of seed and seeding equipment.  There are new business opportunities related to the growing, cleaning, transportation, sales and custom planting of cover crop seed.  Iowa’s farm machinery industry can continue to design, build, sell and service equipment needed for cover crop seeding and management, and increased adoption of no-till and strip-till.

There are other farm business opportunities to consider when it comes to conservation farming practices.  Cover crops and extended rotations could provide more grazing for more livestock in more places, with more small-town businesses selling all needed goods and services to livestock farms.

In addition to increased economic activity in the farm and industrial sectors, there are other economic benefits to be gained from conservation practices.  An Iowa countryside that is green nearly all year-round, with the land covered and protected, would be a more attractive landscape for Iowa residents, and could attract visitors and new entrepreneurs.

Economic research shows that cleaner streams and lakes result in increased recreational opportunities (swimming, canoeing, boating, and fishing) and more tourism to towns and cities associated with these amenities.  More dollars stay in Iowa when Iowans vacation and recreate within the state.

The environmental benefits associated with better soil management are well documented.  But improved soil management can also contribute to Iowa’s economic well-being, now and long into the future.

~Marty Adkins

Iowa Climate Outlook for Spring: Wetter in the North; Drier in Southeast

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Dennis Todey, USDA Midwest Climate Hub Director, with timely climate information as we prepare for crop year 2017.

Planting season is quickly approaching, with field prep work and crop insurance dates for corn only days away.  Initial season concerns include the early spring progression from late winter warmth and its impact on alfalfa and soil N levels. The warm and wet conditions allow soil nitrogen to convert to nitrate, which can be easily lost. A late spring nitrate test would help determine if additional nitrogen is needed to meet crop demands.

As crop year 2017 begins, key factors to consider include:

Current Soil Conditions

Background precipitation issues for Iowa differ for northern versus southern Iowa.  Heavier rain fell across northern Iowa last fall producing wetter harvest conditions.  Some soil wetness issues are likely to carry over into the spring.  In contrast chunks of southern Iowa were much drier – not only in the fall but through the summer.  National soil moisture models currently support this difference in soil conditions indicating overall wetter north and drier in the far southeast.

Precipitation Outlook

While several current storms have produced more rain in southern Iowa, the focus on precipitation should again switch to northern Iowa.  The current 30 day April outlook and spring (April-June) outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has better chances for above average precipitation in northern Iowa.  Combining this rainfall potential with the carry-over wetness from the fall creates the highest risk for wetter planting conditions across the north.Precip Outlook 2017

Growing Season Outlook

Looking ahead to the rest of the growing season utilizes a few tools including the status of El Niño conditions and computer-based outlooks.  The current El Niño situation is neutral, but hinting toward El Niño conditions by late summer.  The switch to El Niño would reduce the risk of a poor growing season, but seems unlikely to start in time to affect the growing season.  The progress will be monitored through the season.

Drought Risk

Computer outlooks lean toward less chance of dry conditions across most of the state.  Thus, the overall drought risk seems fairly small at this point.  It should be noted that longer range precipitation outlooks are more difficult to assess.

Temperature Outlook

Temperature outlooks Iowa and the whole Midwest are likely warmer than average.  This is based mostly on recent trends of warmth in the summer, which has been driven by warmer overnight temperatures.  The risk of excessively high day temperatures seems lower at this point. 2017 Temp Outlook

Severe Weather Risk

Overall storminess would likely be increased along with more precipitation.  But the chances of severe weather currently are similar to climatology at this point.

Iowans Walk on the Wild Side

In my first year in Iowa, I’ve found an engaged and motivated citizenry that values wildlife and their habitats. No wonder – Iowa has produced a disproportionate number of 20th century leaders in wildlife conservation, including William Hornaday, Jay “Ding” Darling, John Lacey, and Aldo Leopold. Proof of this commitment lies in Iowan’s support for each of our 99 locally funded County Conservation Boards, a model unique and perfectly suited for the state.

Further proof lies in the outcome of a 2010 vote where 63% of Iowans voted in favor of a self-imposed tax and constitutional amendment to provide permanent funding for natural resource conservation and education. Additionally, a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 1.3 million people in Iowa participate in wildlife-associated recreation and spend $1.5 billion doing so annually. Wildlife and wildlife habitats matter to Iowans, our economy, and our land.

Plenty of challenges remain. The meritorious work of public and non-governmental entities to preserve unique habitats in our state only amasses to about 3% of the land area.  Between one and two million acres are annually enrolled in federal conservation practices that provide wildlife habitat. But even when combined with lands in public ownership, these conservation lands are only a drop in the bucket of Iowa’s 36 million acres. Thus, the challenge of preserving our rich wildlife heritage rides on the backs of the collective impact of small actions taken by all landowners in our state.

Wildlife conservation challenges are driven by changes to natural ecosystems in our agricultural landscapes. This is where the opportunities lie, because just as wildlife populations track changes in natural ecosystems, so too do many other important ecosystem services. Wildlife are thus one additional beneficiary of sustainable land use practices and should therefore serve as one more bargaining chip in extolling the benefits and promise of conservation efforts that unite every sector and every resident in Iowa.

We’ve all got a stake in this, and as we see improved soil health and water quality, we’ll see more pheasants and meadowlarks. That sounds like a win-win to me and I’m excited to learn how I can collaborate with the Iowa Learning Farms in the years to come.

Adam Janke

Dr. Adam Janke recently joined the ILF team in an advisory role, and will be a regular contributor to the ILF blog. Hear more of Janke’s perspectives on conservation and wildlife issues on the Conservation Chat podcast!