Are you an emerging farmer?

No-till_cornfieldWe are excited to announce the launch of our new Emerging Farmers Project! This is a proactive approach to address the need to reach out to emerging farmers and future landowners. We define an emerging farmer as someone with ties to agricultural land who would like to return to the farm as an operator or have a voice in its management.

A goal of this innovative project is to help address a variety of social factors influencing the adoption of conservation practices and assist emerging famers in the creation of a sustainable business plan for their operation.  According to the USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2014 Tenure, Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) Survey, in Iowa:

  • 1/2 of the land is rented or leased
  • Owner/operators make up 19.4% of landowners – 40% of landowners have never farmed before
  • Forty percent of agricultural land is owned by women, with 33% by women over age 65
  • By 2019, ~9% of all the agricultural land will be transferring ownership and ~9% put into a will

This large transference of land and significant demographic shift in Iowa’s agricultural land management and ownership calls for new approaches to conservation outreach and education.

To kick off the project, we are hosting a series of Rapid Needs and Response Workshops to discuss soil conservation practices like no-tillage and cover crops, grazing best management practices and water quality. If you or someone you know is an emerging farmer, please plan to attend a workshop!

February 20, 6-8 pm: Emerging Farmer No-Till Workshop
Hampton United Methodist Church
100 Central Ave E
Hampton, IA 50441
Franklin County
In partnership with Franklin County Extension and Outreach
Press Release
Flyer
RSVP: Michelle Sackville 641-456-4811 or sackvill@iastate.edu

March 6, 6-8 pm: Emerging Farmer Workshop
1306 Elings Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
Story County
RSVP: Liz Juchems 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

March 15, 6-8 pm: Emerging Farmer Soil Health and Grazing Workshop
Creston Pizza Ranch
Corner Corral
520 Livingston Avenue
Creston, IA 50801
Union County
RSVP: Liz Juchems 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

The program is a collaborative effort led by the Iowa Learning Farms with farmer partners,  Iowa Beef Center, ISU Extension and Outreach, Beginning Farmer Center and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Liz Juchems

Midwest Climate Hub: Early Winter Outlook

Guest post by Dr. Dennis Todey | USDA Midwest Climate Hub Director

Cold, dry conditions are expected to continue through February. The current weather models indicate that the cold will persist, with some warming periods occurring.  Normal levels of precipitation in January and February typically have little impact on drought conditions for the upcoming spring, but we will continue to watch closely and inform partners if conditions do not improve by spring. Monitoring frosts depths will be important for heading off issues for water supplies for both livestock and homes.

Current conditions

Temperature conditions in late December flipped from warmer than average in early December to much colder than average late in the month across the Midwest and most of the Northern Plains.  The last 30 days have now been below average for Iowa and much of the Midwest and Northern Plains.

Precipitation has been limited across most of the Midwest and Northern Plains with less than 25% of average precipitation across large chunks of the Midwest despite some recent snows.   Most of the Midwest and Northern Plains are now snow-covered.

jan todey precip

Impacts

The extreme cold has impacted livestock across the region with the sharp turn to colder temperatures.  Possible damage may have occurred to perennials/fruit trees because of the extreme cold.  Cold temperatures set in across much of the Upper Midwest before snow covered the soil.  Without that insulating effect, soils were able to freeze more readily.  Most soils throughout the region were also fairly dry, allowing the soil to freeze at depth more easily.  With the consistent extreme cold and colder temperatures likely into January, frost depths will continue to penetrate deeper, causing potential problems for water supplies for livestock and potentially homes if the severe cold continues.

Monitoring frost depths would be a good idea.  NOAA provides a regional frost depth map.

The main current dryness impacts are in Missouri/Illinois/Iowa where the longer term dryness (in some places since last year) has left farm ponds low, limiting water for cattle and reduced feed availability in places.

Outlooks

The updated January outlooks from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center indicate similar conditions for the rest of the month and winter.  The jet stream pattern will continue to bring additional cold to much of the Northern Plains and Midwest with some intervening warmer periods.

Livestock will continue to experience colder conditions and need additional management.  Mentioned soil frost depths should also be monitored.

Drought conditions are unlikely to change much largely because precipitation is limited even in a more normal January.  Dry conditions do not worsen conditions much in winter.  Only extremely wet conditions can improve in the winter.  That is very unlikely at this point.  Dryness improvement will likely not occur until spring.

ILF Steering Committee Helping Make A Difference

Jake Hansen | Water Resources Bureau Chief at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS)

ILF_Badge_Multi_SMFor nearly 14 years, Iowa Learning Farms has established and maintained a presence as a respected and trusted source of conservation outreach and education in the state of Iowa and beyond. While many similar programs have come and gone over the years in shorter cycles, ILF has managed to remain at the forefront of the public dialogue around great things happening in conservation and opportunities that lie ahead.

The lion’s share of the credit for this should be given to the staff and the cooperators that have worked tirelessly to advocate for good land stewardship by farmers and urban dwellers alike. However, there is another group of key stakeholders that have worked with Iowa Learning Farms over the years to identify emerging education needs. That group is the Iowa Learning Farms Steering Committee.

Led by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the ILF Steering Committee includes representatives of six organizations that provide financial and technical support to the program. In addition to ISU Extension and Outreach, other agencies and organizations on the committee include the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Iowa Farm Bureau, and Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI).

Bio5

Bioreactor: an edge-of-field conservation practice designed to reduce nitrate loss from the field scale

These organizations contribute decades of knowledge on conservation practices and outreach efforts along with access to statewide networks of farmers, agricultural decision makers, and local leaders. Our job is to identify emerging challenges faced by our farming community, as well as opportunities to use demonstrations by local conservation champions. In addition, we want to find means of scaling up implementation of key conservation activities.

The ILF Steering Committee typically meets 3-4 times per year and reviews program activities completed by staff while helping to identify future programming needs. The committee also provides insight and support on outreach funding sources and advises ILF leadership on potential funding opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, committee members are constantly in touch with a broad range of constituents and can provide real-time input on challenges to conservation adoption, ranging from management of cover crops to the economics of land use decisions and much more.

DSCN9848Even if you don’t interact regularly with the Iowa Learning Farms staff, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of these partners if you have a suggestion for a field day or a conservation issue that might merit some attention. ILF and the Steering Committee are always looking for input from our audiences on how to help decision makers balance conservation ethics with the economic realities of modern farming. Additionally, if you have recently attended an ILF field day, consider attending others, as the topics and the network of people you will meet continue to evolve!

Jake Hansen

A Year of Thanks!

On behalf of the Iowa Learning Farms team, I would like to thank all of our hosts, speakers and partners for an amazing 2017 Field Day season. The year our 28 field days were attended by 1,280 farmers, landowners, government employees, media and agribusiness staff. The topics included: cover crops, grazing cover crops, soil health, strip-till/no-till, bioreactors, rotational grazing, water quality, and monarch butterflies.  The combinations of these practices implemented on our landscape are key to helping reach our Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

Keep an eye out this January! We will be mailing a brief survey to all farmers/operators and landowners who attended an ILF-sponsored field day or workshop.

 

Be sure to check out our events page on our website to attend a 2018 event near you.

Liz Juchems

Incubating New Ideas at the Drainage Research Forum

Matt Helmers | Professor in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and Extension Agriculture Engineer, Iowa State University 

In my last column, I wrote about how we needed to scale up the human resources significantly in order to meet some of the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This month, I would like to assert that it is also critical we continue efforts on new technology development and research on the performance of practices – specifically new practices.

05-17 Bioreactor

Bioreactor Installation in Monroe Co. Iowa

One outlet for developing new ideas is the Iowa-Minnesota Drainage Research Forum. While edge-of-field nitrate reduction practices such as controlled drainage, bioreactors, wetlands, and saturated buffers are now household names, they were first discussed at the Drainage Research Forums when they were just preliminary ideas with some preliminary data. This event serves as an incubator for innovation to help us get feedback about how these practices might work.

The Drainage Research Forum is in its seventeenth year and was held in Ames this year. I have been attending these forums since I stated at Iowa State. The Forum averages around 75 people, mainly engineers and researchers from across the Midwest. Basically, when we present the new idea or practice at this forum, we are asking our colleagues to give us input on whether they think it will work on a larger scale and to see if anyone in the room can point out our flaws or give us another way to approach it. They can be really engaging and important discussions.


You can download most of the past Forum presentations from the Drainage Outlet website through University of Minnesota Extension.


Much of the initial funding for these types of unknown practices were from state agencies and local centers such as the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. These groups could be nimble and see the need and understand that small initial investments could lead to great outcomes and larger research funding which has happened in almost all cases.

So while we continue working on implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and continue with efforts to education farmers and other stakeholders about practices they can use to reduce downstream nutrient loss, we need to continue the behind the scenes efforts to develop new practices for nutrient reduction, conduct research to refine recommendations for practice implementation, and conduct research to enhance the performance of practices.

Drainage Forum 2017

Drainage Forum held in Ames, Iowa on November 15, 2017

In order to do this, we need forums like the Drainage Research Forum to help develop the innovation needed to develop practices or different approaches to old ones. Forums that bring together smaller groups of people with initial ideas and data to help them see how that information will work on the land.

The Iowa Learning Farms team likes to tease me about how excited I get to attend the Drainage Research Forum. They are right. It is one of my favorite gatherings. Some or much of that excitement comes from knowing I will get to learn about cutting edge practices, technology or management approaches that are in their early stages. I look forward to hearing what new ideas are discussed at the next seventeen (or more!) Drainage Research Forums. You are welcome to join us in 2018.

Matt Helmers

Time for your Soil Health Check Up!

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.

I had my yearly medical check-up last week.  It was a routine visit, time to have prescriptions refilled and get my flu shot.  It was also a good time to chat with my doctor about my overall health and to ask questions.

Check up clip boardAs we round the corner from one crop year to the next, it’s a good opportunity to conduct a “check-up” of soil health, too.  Only living things can have health, and soils are amazing, complex living ecosystems.  Soils are home to organisms that cycle nutrients, build water-holding capacity and help make soils “spongy” to capture precipitation.  And remember, the health of the soil on your farm will affect the health of your bank account, now and in the future.

The Iowa Soil Health Assessment Card is a helpful tool for assessing soil health. Soil Health Assessment Card

Use the Card, and a spade, to check on some key soil health indicators this fall:

  • Root growth – Are roots growing vertically and penetrating into the soil with lots of fine roots?  That’s a good sign.  Roots traveling horizontally signal soil compaction which limits root growth and crop yields.
  • Soil structure – Does your soil have the look of cottage cheese, with stable aggregates and lots of pore space?  If so, great!  On the other hand, hard, massive clods indicate your soil structure needs attention.
  • Water holding capacity – Did water soak in or run off this past year?  Did you have fields that experienced drought stress earlier than expected?  If so, it’s likely time to re-think tillage practices that burn off water-storing organic matter.

To build soil health, keep in mind the following principles:

  • Minimize soil disturbance – Over time, tillage reduces soil’s ability to soak in and hold water.  It also leaves soil susceptible to erosion and nutrient loss.
  • Maintain plant diversity – through crop rotations and cover crops.  Plant diversity leads to more diversity in soil microorganisms, and also helps break up disease and pest cycles.
  • Living roots growing throughout the year – to feed soil microorganisms and keep nitrates in the root zone where they can be used in the next crop.
  • Keep the soil covered to help prevent erosion and to moderate root zone temperatures.  Crop residues left on the soil surface will decompose in place, helping to build soil organic matter.

Check-ups aren’t just for people.  Monitoring and working to improve soil health is important for your farm, too.

Marty Adkins

Cover Crops & Risk Management Field Days Set for Nov. 13 and Nov. 21

In addition to our cover crop field day series, be sure to attend one of the upcoming cover crops and risk management field days!

 

Join farmer hosts, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and conservation partners for an upcoming Cover Crops and Risk Management Field Day on Monday, November 13, near Corning or Tuesday, November 21, in Slater. These events will highlight the benefits of cover crops and discuss potential for ideas to incentivize cover crops through crop insurance. Speakers will also include Sarah Carlson of Practical Farmers of Iowa.  

 

Monday, November 13, Ray Gaesser Farm
2507 Quince Ave, Corning, Iowa. 
Lunch provided at noon, followed by program at 12:30. Rain or shine. 
Click here for more details and to RSVP 

 

Tuesday, November 21, Aaron Lehman Farm
Starts at Nelson Park Cabin, 305 Benton St., Slater, Iowa
.
Lunch provided at noon, followed by program at 12:30. Rain or shine.   
Click here for more details and to RSVP 

 

Sponsors include Iowa Farmers Union, Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Environmental Council and Iowa Soybean Association. Thanks to additional support from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

RSVP requested for lunch (but not required). Contact Ann with questions, at robinson@iaenvironment.org or 515-244-1194, ext. 211.