Iowa Learning Farms Webinar to Discuss Pasture Conservation and Grazing

WebinarWhiterock Conservancy is a non-profit land trust of 5,500 acres located near Coon Rapids along the Middle Raccoon River. The Conservancy demonstrates a variety of sustainable agricultural practices that build soil health. Rob Davis, Conservation Lands Manager with Whiterock Conservancy, will discuss pasture conservation and grazing for soil, livestock and wildlife benefits during the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, January 17 at 12:00 noon.

DATE: Wednesday, January 17, 2018
TIME: 12:00 noon
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Log on as a guest shortly before 12:00 p.m.:

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:

Julie Winter

From the Director

ilfbadge_youtube-01As the Iowa Learning Farms turns 14, we will not be resting on our past successes. This upcoming year will bring new ways of engaging farmers and all Iowans in conservation and water quality improvement practices.

05-17-bioreactorWhile we will still continue to work with our partners to increase the number of cover crop and no-tillage acres in Iowa, starting in 2018 we will also be offering assistance with edge-of-field practice implementation through conservation planning.

Working with local stakeholders, we will hold farmer meetings and field days in the North Raccoon and Middle Cedar watersheds to encourage participants to begin the process of conservation planning so they can implement an edge-of-field practice, which include bioreactors, saturated buffers, wetlands, and drainage water management.

Assistance with conservation planning can help determine eligibility for cost share for the practices. Our goal is to assist with about 10 plans and get commitments to implement about 5 edge-of-field practices to serve as demonstration sites to encourage others in these areas to consider these important water quality improvement practices.

It is our hope that we exceed our goals and need to ask the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship for additional funding to accommodate all those folks interested in conservation planning to install edge-of-field practices.

DSCN0199Keep your eyes on future e-news to learn when we will host an “edge of field” field day in your area. These field days will feature presentations by farmers and experts, as well as our new Conservation Station “On the Edge” demonstration so you can see first hand how saturated buffers, bioreactors and wetlands work to improve water quality. We might even throw in a goat or two if that will get you to come to the field day.

If you are in those watersheds and interested in completing a conservation plan and implementing an edge-of-field practice, please contact Liz Juchems at or 515-294-5429.

Jacqueline Comito

The Goat Effect: A reflection on creative ways to bring more people to the conservation table

2018_AdamDSCN9843During my first full year in extension, I spent a lot of time at field days. There’s a constant debate among folks that organize field days about the recipe for a successful event. Timing matters. So does location. Advertising and promotional efforts make a difference. And of course food—everyone knows that free food fills seats. But I learned at a field day last August that goats also turn out a crowd.

2018_Adam_buckthorn_textThe Clear Lake Watershed Project is working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources at McIntosh Woods State Park on the north shore of the lake to improve runoff from the park into the project’s namesake. Exotic invasive woody shrubs like European buckthorn have changed the structure of the forest vegetation in the park in a way that negatively impacts everything from wildlife to water quality. A wide variety of methods are being employed throughout the state to fight these invasions, including the one on display that day in Clear Lake: goat grazing.


As I drove to the field day to provide remarks about the threat invasive species pose for forest health and wildlife habitat, I was admittedly skeptical about the prospects for turnout at a field day that seemed to have a rather narrow focus. My skepticism was unfounded. Over 50 people from all different walks of life showed up that evening to learn about the watershed project, the challenges facing the lake and its surrounding forests, and, the star of the show, the goats. There were farmers, business people from the city, community leaders, retirees, kids, and forest landowners, all at the table together talking and learning about conservation.

Moving goats in McIntosh State Park. Credit: The CLEAR Project

That evening, we just had fun with the group, watching the goats and talking about the project and what it hopes to accomplish. As I drove back that night and in the time since the event, I’ve thought a lot more about how unique the night was. The diversity in the crowd. The number of topics we covered. The interest and engagement in the project from across a wide berth of the community the Clear Project seeks to engage. It seems the novelty of the topic appealed across this wide cross section of people, piqued an interest and led to conversations and learning in a way that felt different from many other field days I’ve attended.

A video from the perspective of a grazing goat in McIntosh Woods State Park in 2016

Now, I should say, the other ingredients at the field day were just right too: great weather, solid planning and advertisement, and of course, that all-important ingredient for a successful field day, food. On the menu that night: baked beans, fruit, and goat burgers. The latter was a surprise to attendees and drove home a key lesson. That is, we’re all in this together, working within the agricultural system to bring positive changes to the landscape while growing food and ensuring healthy soil, farms, habitat, and water for the future.

Adam Janke

Adam Janke is an Iowa Learning Farms team member, Assistant Professor in Natural Resources Ecology and Management and Extension Wildlife Program Specialist at Iowa State University.

Iowa Learning Farms 2017 Evaluation


In 2017, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a total of 28 field days and workshops that were attended by 1,280 people! We thank everyone who helped to make our events a success; however, there’s one more way that you can help us. If you attended an Iowa Learning Farms field day or workshop in 2017 and identified yourself as a farmer/operator or landowner, you will receive a one-page survey in your mailbox in early January 2018.

Please fill out your survey at your earliest convenience and mail it back to us.

IMG_4542Your responses will help us improve our education and outreach activities in 2018, including field days, workshops and our overall approach to our program. We want to hear from you – what changes did you make to your operation this year? What are your biggest barriers to implementing additional conservation practices? Let your voice be heard and your acres be counted in our year-end survey! If you have any questions about this evaluation, please let us know.

Julie Winter

Iowa Learning Farms Webinar to Explore Lessons Learned from Using Cover Crops to Reduce Nitrate Losses

DSCN0571Even with excellent nutrient management, nitrate losses from corn and soybean fields can occur because these cash crops only grow and take up nitrate and water for five months of the year. Cover crops like winter rye can be an effective strategy for reducing nitrate losses to groundwater or tile drainage because they can take up water and nitrate during the period between harvest and planting of the next year’s crop.

Dr. Tom Kaspar, Plant Physiologist at the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, will share his lessons learned over his storied career researching the use of cover crops and no-till to improve water quality and soil health in corn and soybean production systems.

DATE: Wednesday, December 13, 2017
TIME: 12:00 noon
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Log on as a guest shortly before 12:00 p.m.:

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:

Julie Winter

Cover Crop Crop Insurance Demonstration Project

This article was originally published on Clean Water Iowa’s website.


Crop insurance is an integral part of the farm safety net that provides protection for farmers after bad weather impacts their crops. Cover crops can help prevent erosion and improve water quality and soil health; among other benefits.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and partners worked with the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) to establish a 3 year demonstration project aimed at expanding usage of cover crops in Iowa.

Through this project IDALS will provide $5/acre for cover crops to eligible applicants. Funding will be provided through RMA as an additional insurance premium discount through normal crop insurance processes. The new premium reduction will be available for fall-planted cover crops with a spring-planted cash crop. Some policies may be excluded, such as Whole-Farm Revenue Protection or those covered through written agreements. Participating farmers must follow all existing good farming practices required by their policy and work with their insurance agent to maintain eligibility.

Sign up is currently open until 5:00 pm on January 15, 2018, for farmers and landowners to certify cover crop acres for the program. Sign up to begin the application process. Please note that cover crop acres currently enrolled in state and/or federal programs are not eligible for this program.

For more information, please see the Program Rules, Frequently Asked Questions, or contact IDALS.

Julie Whitson

“Chipping Away” at What We Don’t Know About Bioreactors

LauraLast week, Dr. Laura Christianson joined us for our monthly Iowa Learning Farms webinar. Christianson has nine years of experience focused on agricultural drainage water quality and denitrification bioreactors for point and nonpoint nitrogen treatment.

Bioreactors: What We Know

Laura’s experience with bioreactors over the past nine years has led her to study bioreactors with many shapes, sizes and designs. She authored in a meta-analysis on bioreactors that synthesized existing research.

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For bioreactor basics, the meta-analysis found that bioreactors can remove an average of 25-45% of the annual N load leaving a field, although a range of 10% to 100% of N load reduction has been seen. The cost of a bioreactor that treats 50 acres was approximately $10,000. The analysis also found that woodchips in a bioreactor can last approximately 10 years, but a range of 7-15 years has been seen. The woodchips need to be changed not because the bioreactor is running out of a carbon source, but because woodchip degradation causes hydraulic performance decline within the bioreactor. The meta-analysis also investigated different factors that impact nitrate removal effectiveness in a bioreactor. Some of these factor are:

Hydraulic retention time
Water should be retained within a bioreactor for a minimum of six hours. Great visuals and an explanation are covered in the webinar.

Water temperature and age of bioreactor

Water tempWater lower than 43 degrees F affect nitrate load reduction potential. In the first year, bioreactors are incredibly efficient at N load reduction as microbes begin to feast on available carbon and dissolved oxygen in the water. However, Laura says, “Once your bioreactor is more than a year old, that’s when you really settle in to know what your long-term nitrate removal performance is going to be.”

Porosity of the woodchips
wood_creditThere was no significant difference in N removal when using different types of wood (hardwood vs. softwood) in a bioreactor. However, the physical properties of the wood matter. Use chips with particles size between ½ inch and two inches instead of shredded or mulched wood.


Bioreactors: The Future

Future research on bioreactors is moving us beyond the first generation of bioreactors.

Bioreactors with bafflesbaffles_credit
Plastic baffles in the bioreactor route the water through the woodchips so all woodchips are utilized in the denitrification process.


Paired_creditPaired bioreactors
Two bioreactors are installed side-by-side. One serves as the primary bioreactor, and bypass water from the primary bioreactor is routed to a second bioreactor to continue N removal on bypass water that would normally not be treated.

in-ditch_creditIn-ditch bioreactors
For areas with ditch drainage, the bottom of the ditch is excavated, woodchips are placed, and wooden check bands are installed incrementally throughout the length of the treated ditch bed.


PfilterBioreactors paired with
phosphorous-absorbing filters

Water is routed through a phosphorous-absorbing filter prior to its entry into the bioreactor.


If you would like to brush up on your bioreactor knowledge, don’t miss this webinar!

Julie Whitson