Wetland Ecosystem Services: How Wetlands Can Benefit Iowans

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about the importance of wetlands in Iowa. Kay Stefanik, Assistant Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, described what makes a wetland a wetland, the different types of wetlands found in Iowa and the ecosystem services that wetlands provide.

Wetlands need to have saturated soils or standing water for enough of the year that hydric soils and hydrophytic vegetation establish. The hydric soil of wetlands is different than that of upland areas. Upland soils will have water and oxygen gases in the pore spaces between the soil particles, while wetlands soils will have water in its pore spaces, with either very little or no oxygen gas. The figure below shows the different in the pore spaces of upland and wetland soils (Raven P.H. et al. 2011. Biology, 9th edition). Finally, wetlands feature hydrophytic vegetation (water plants), which can grow in these saturated soil conditions.

Stefanik described four common types of wetlands that naturally occur in Iowa. Prairie potholes are found predominantly in the Des Moines Lobe and are depressions that collect water during wet periods of the year. Riverine wetlands occur near streams or rivers on floodplains or as oxbow (old meanders of a stream channel that have been cut off from the main channel over time) wetlands. Fens are typically groundwater fed and feature low vegetation. Emergent marshes have herbaceous vegetation, open water areas and algae.

Throughout the entire state of Iowa, about 89% of the original wetlands have been removed or lost as land use has changed. In the Des Moines Lobe region, which used to be known as the “1000 Lake Region”, 99% of the wetlands have been lost. This loss of wetlands matters to us all, due to the ecosystem services that wetlands provide.

To learn more about these ecosystem services that wetlands can provide, watch the full webinar here!

If you want to learn more about wetlands in Iowa, tune in to the Celebrating Iowa’s Wetlands Virtual Field Day on May 28.

Please join us on May 27 for a webinar with Paul Miller, Urban Conservationist at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), titled “The Importance of Urban Conservation and Useful Stormwater Management Practices for Homeowners”.

Hilary Pierce

May 20 Webinar: Wetland Ecosystem Services: How Wetlands Can Benefit Iowans

May is American Wetlands Month and Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, May 20 at noon about the importance of wetlands in Iowa.

Wetlands are important for all life in Iowa, due to the many ecosystem services they provide, such as water quality improvement, flood control and wildlife habitat. Since European settlement, Iowa has lost almost 90% of its wetland habitat, making it imperative that we both protect the wetlands that are left and find ways to create and restore critical wetland habitat. Kay Stefanik, Assistant Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, will highlight the importance of wetlands and will introduce the different types of natural, created and restored wetlands that can be found in Iowa.

“I hope that webinar participants will take away a greater appreciate for wetlands in Iowa, as well as a desire to better protect wetland ecosystems from future harm,” said Stefanik, whose expertise is in wetland and aquatic ecology, where she has studied vegetation succession in created and restored wetlands, as well as nutrient cycling.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on May 20:

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

Exploring the Case for Retiring (Or at Least Down-Sizing) the Mower on Farms and City Lots

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about the benefits of reducing mowed land area across rural Iowa. Adam Janke, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist, discussed a project which considered the economic, ecological and aesthetic impacts of managing idle spaces differently.

Three different management scenarios were compared: traditional turfgrass, the “lazy lawnmower” and pollinator habitat establishment. In the traditional turfgrass management scenario, the space is planted to a monoculture and mowed weekly. In the “lazy lawnmower” scenario, mowing is done less frequently, about once every three weeks. Finally, in the pollinator habitat scenario, pollinator habitat is established in the area and managed to create a diverse source of nectar resources for pollinators.

The economic analysis of the three different management scenarios showed that both the “lazy lawnmower” and establishing pollinator habitat saved landowners money (and time, since their time was also valued in the analysis). Out of the three, the establishment of pollinator habitat had the lowest per acre cost per year. Janke also showed that, ecologically, there are no benefits to increased mowing.

Why maintain turfgrass when is is expensive and lacks environmental benefits? Literature on the subject acknowledges that this behavior might not be rational, but that it is part of our cultural norms. Worrying about what the neighbor might think of how you manage your land plays a big role in behavior. In order to increase adoption of different management scenarios for idle land, we need innovators who are trying out the practices and showing people that they can work.

Janke shared examples of three places that have adopted pollinator habitat instead of traditional turfgrass in idle areas. The image on the left shows a farmer who is a champion of monarch conservation who converted an idle area on his farm where to pollinator habitat. The middle image is from a farm that was part of a project with the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium who partnered with pork producers to convert idle areas outside of livestock barns. Check out this video to learn more about this project. The image on the right shows pollinator habitat on idle land at Workiva in Ames, shortly after it was burned this spring as part of the management of the area.

To learn more about the benefits of managing idle land for pollinator habitat, or at least reducing how frequently they’re mowed, watch the full webinar here!

Be sure to join us next week when Kay Stefanik, Assistant Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, will present a webinar titled: “Wetland Ecosystem Services: How Wetlands Can Benefit Iowans”.

Hilary Pierce

May 13 Webinar: Exploring the Case for Retiring (Or at Least Down-Sizing) the Mower on Farms and City Lots

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, May 13 at noon about the benefits of reducing mowed land area across rural Iowa.

Reducing the size of mowed areas in rural Iowa has many layered benefits for landowners and land. Adam Janke, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist, will compare the costs and environmental benefits of three management options for existing idle turf grass areas in rural landscapes. Changing management of these areas from turf monocultures to diverse native perennial plants, like those found in pollinator plantings, can improve water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat. Making the change from turf to native perennial plants will also save landowners money and time.

“Farm margins are exceptionally tight and the need for every available acre in Iowa to work for soil, water and wildlife is greater than ever,” said Janke. “This work will show how creating new habitat areas on a farm can help to improve conservation outcomes while also saving time and money for the landowners.”

Janke, who studies wildlife habitat relationships in working agricultural landscapes, hopes that participants will take away new perspectives and ideas for what they can do with idle areas that already exist on their farms and acreages.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm on May 13:

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

Multi-Cropping as a Profitable Soil Health Solution

Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar on Wednesday about multi-cropping, and the soil health, environmental, and economic benefits of this practice.

Multi-cropping, which means more than one crop is harvested from the same field in the same year, can be done in several different ways. Relay-cropping is one option, where two crops with overlapping growing seasons are grown in the same field. Another option is double cropping, which is when two crops are grown and harvested together. Poly-cropping is when three or more crops are grown together. Finally, inter-cropping is when one or more crops are planted into an existing crop prior to harvest.

Ross Evelsizer, Watershed Planner & GIS Specialist at Northeast Iowa RC&D, explained what Iowa farmers have been trying and how multi-cropping can be done successfully. Iowa farmers are having good luck with relay-cropping. Crop combinations that are being used successfully in Iowa include pairing soybeans with a fall or spring planted small grain. Corn setups have been less successful, but some participants have tried corn with forage mix or cowpeas planted between 60 in. corn rows.

Benefits of multi-cropping for the farmer or landowner include diverse investments, improved soil health, weed suppression, and flexibility. From an environmental standpoint, multi-cropping can reduce soil erosion, reduce disturbances, and increase biodiversity. Evelsizer shared a producer’s relay-crop budget vs. their soybean production budget. Although there was a yield reduction for the soybeans grown in the relay-cropping system, the added revenue from the cereal rye meant that, overall, revenue for the relay setup was higher. The profit for the relay system was also significantly higher than that of the soybeans alone.

To learn more about multi-cropping, watch the full webinar here! You can also connect with Multi-Cropping Iowa on Facebook or Twitter!

Join us next week to learn about the benefits of mowing less. Adam Janke, an Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist at Iowa State University, will present a webinar titled “Exploring the Economic, Ecological, and Aesthetic Case for Retiring (Or at Least Down-Sizing) the Mower on Farms and City Lots”.

Hilary Pierce

May 6 Webinar: Multi-Cropping as a Profitable Soil Health Solution

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, May 6 at noon about multi-cropping, and the soil health, environmental, and economic benefits of this practice.

Multi-cropping has many associated benefits. It adds opportunities for producers to increase diversity to crop rotations, creates additional economic opportunities, reduces input costs and weed pressure, mimics nature, and builds soil health. Ross Evelsizer, Watershed Planner & GIS Specialist at Northeast Iowa RC&D, will explain what multi-cropping is, and what producers are doing in Iowa and other parts of the country, during this webinar. Evelsizer will also describe the benefits of multi-cropping for soil health and the environment, as well as the economic implications of the practice.

“I hope people will learn about multi-cropping and think about how it could be worked into what they are doing,” said Evelsizer, who has had seven years of experience in watershed management in northeast Iowa, where he has worked alongside producers and landowners to tackle flooding and water quality issues while maintaining economic productivity. He will also discuss the next steps for Multi-Cropping Iowa.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm on May 6:

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

Iowa’s Water Quality Challenge

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about the efforts and progress being made toward reducing agricultural losses of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, explained:

  1. How does nutrient loss occur in Iowa agriculture?
  2. Which practices reduce nutrient loss?
  3. Are these practices being adopted?

Nowatzke explained that agricultural losses of nitrogen and phosphorus mainly occur in two different ways: soil and phosphorus loss through erosion from surface runoff and loss of nitrate-nitrogen and some dissolved phosphorus through subsurface drainage. In-field and edge-of-field practices have been designed and are being adopted by farmers and landowners to reduce these losses.

These practices can be used to meet the nutrient reduction goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The Strategy lays out several different scenarios in which the goals can be reached through different combinations of practices and the necessary adoption rate for each scenario. One of these scenarios is shown in the figure below, with the current estimated adoption rate also shown.

More widespread adoption of these practices (in this combination of practices or in the other scenarios) will be needed to reach the nutrient reduction goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Nowatzke shared the following resources for more information:

More information about the progress toward Iowa’s water quality goals can be found in the forthcoming 2018-19 Annual Progress Report of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Last year’s report can be found here.

Watch the full webinar here!

Be sure to join us next week, on May 6, when  Ross Evelsizer, Watershed Planner & GIS Specialist at Northeast Iowa RC&D, will present a webinar titled: “Multi-Cropping as a Profitable Soil Health Solution“.

Hilary Pierce