Conservation Practice Showcase Showdown

Who would have thought that the best time of year to catch a field day would be in the beginning of August? The temperature when we started was in the low 80’s and by the time we finished it was in the mid 60’s. No bugs, no humidity… perfect. The turnout was also fantastic with over 60 in attendance.

DSC_2170The event was held at the Iowa State University Uthe Farm near Madrid, in partnership with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and Iowa State University Research and Demonstration Farms. Attendees had the opportunity to tour four conservation practices installed at the farm.

Saturated Buffers

Tom Isenhart, ISU Natural Resource Ecology and Management Professor kicked things off. He spoke about the origins of the saturated buffer practice and how incredibly effective they are at removing nitrates from the water.

“We raise the water table so that the water soaks into the black soil, where all the microbes are. We are sending water into the stream that is much cleaner than when we received it.” ~Tom Isenhart

An attendee asks, “Is that why they are called saturated buffers?” Tom replies, “Exactly!”

Bioreactors

Michelle Soupir, ISU Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Associate Professor, and Natasha Hoover, ISU Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Research Associate, led the discussion on bioreactors. They talked about installation, costs and how they are experimenting with corn cob bioreactors.

“We have some pilot scale bioreactors that have been replaced with corn cobs. We know they work better, but there are still design questions about how long they last.” ~Michelle Soupir

They took a sample and used a nitrate test strip at the inlet and outlet of the bioreactor to see how effective it was at removing nitrate from the water. The results were quick – 25ppm at the inlet and 0ppm at the outlet.

Oxbows

Adam Janke, ISU Natural Resource Ecology and Management Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist, and Sean McCoy, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Environmental Specialist, talked about how important oxbows are to water quality as well as habitat.

“Oxbows are an attempt to slow the water down to allow denitrification to take place. However, there is a secondary benefit to oxbows and that is the aesthetics and the wildlife.” ~Adam Janke

When asked what his dream species would be in the oxbow, Janke replied that it would probably be the Topeka Shiner.

Pollinator Habitat

As the sun began to set, Seth Appelgate with ISU Monarch Research Team, spoke to the importance of reestablishing pollinator habitat. He suggested that there were many areas that people mow that could be converted with minimal cost.

“Pollinator habitat is actually cheaper over the long run because you save time and money mowing it. It’s more attractive, covers a larger area and has diverse stands that help with water infiltration. Plus, monarchs need these areas.” ~Seth Appelgate

If you’re interested in learning more about bioreactors, saturated buffers or other conservation practices, check out our upcoming field days to see if there will be one near you!

Nathan Stevenson

A Beautiful Evening for Bioreactors

The rain stayed to our south and we ended up having a perfect evening to see Bob Floss’s bioreactors on Wednesday, July 31. Over 50 people joined Iowa Learning Farms, Iowa Corn and Iowa State Extension & Outreach to learn more about how bioreactors work, the installation process, and get a chance to chat with farmer Bob Floss and contractor Chris Herbold.

DSC_2101After enjoying dinner, attendees got a chance to learn about the basics of saturated buffers and bioreactors while viewing the models in the Conservation Station “On the Edge” trailer. These models help to show how these practices work and what’s going on under the ground surface because once a saturated buffer or bioreactor has been installed, you can only see the control structures for them. Field day participants were very interested in learning more about these practices and asked us some great questions. To learn more about these practices, check out these saturated buffer and bioreactor infographics from Iowa State Extension & Outreach.

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DSC_2118Chris Herbold, the contractor who installed the bioreactors in the spring of 2018, was also on hand to answer specific questions about installation process. He explained that it took them about three days to do the first bioreactor, the first one he had installed, but that they learned throughout the process and were able to install the second bioreactor in about a day and a half. Herbold joked that he and his crew will be very busy for years to come, and may be able to get their installation time down even further, due to the large number of bioreactors that are needed to meet Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

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Attendees were curious about how the stop logs in the control structure worked and how often Floss and Herbold had to go out to check the bioreactors. They explained that they were checking and adjusting the water level about once a week during spring snow melt, but need to do so less frequently now. They were also excited to share that they have been using nitrate test strips and have been seeing impressive nitrate reductions from the inlet to the outlet of the bioreactor, when they remember their glasses, that is!

If you’re interested in learning more about bioreactors or other conservation practices, check out our upcoming field days to see if there will be one near you!

Hilary Pierce

Discovering My Passion

ILFHeader(15-year)IMG_4905This is my second summer working with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms, my first being the summer of 2017. There have been a few moments throughout this summer that made me realize how much I have changed since I first began my internship here two years ago.

Back when I started, I had just changed majors to become a biosystems engineering major, and I was set that I was going to do the bioprocessing/biofuels track. Through my experience with the water resources internship, I found what I really wanted to do, which was working with water quality and other environmental issues.

When I first began the internship, I knew nothing about agriculture, water quality issues, or anything about what I wanted to do in the future. Now, besides the knowledge and experience I have gained through my education and my internships, I also have some solid ideas about what I want to do.

I realized this very recently through two very different workdays.

The first was field work we did for the monarch butterfly survey. We had to trudge through thick, soggy grass taller than me and fight off mosquitos and ticks while looking for milkweed plants in CRP fields. It was miserable, annoying, and painful, but also somehow fun! It was cool to learn how to identify the different species of milkweed, and it was a great feeling when you finally found a plant while walking in circles in chest tall grass for what seemed like hours (even though it was probably 5 minutes).

Monarch MonitoringIt was simultaneously one of the most fun and most miserable days of the summer. And with the help of an entire can of bugs pray, I’m still here! If you had asked me at the beginning of the summer 2 years ago to do that, I’m not sure what I would have done. I do know that I would have had a much worse attitude about it, and that I would not have had any fun whatsoever. I think that represents one way that I have grown, which is to be better at taking things as they come and dealing with it. I think is a very valuable attitude to have in the environmental field, because nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to nature.

The other day was one where I had to present the Conservation Station On the Edge trailer at a field day in NW Iowa. I had been on field days like this before, but with a staff member, and so I had heard this being presented but had never done it myself. I was nervous about doing this myself, because I was worried that I would get questions I couldn’t handle or forget to mention something important. I knew that I had learned a lot of this stuff through coursework and the internship, but I somehow felt that I still wasn’t prepared. But everything went well. I presented the models and information for both the saturated buffer and woodchip bioreactor, and it seemed like I was keeping the audience’s attention.

When it got to time to ask questions, I was nervous, but as they came, I found myself naturally answering them. It turns out, shockingly, that I learned something in college. I think that a major reason that I was nervous for grad school was that somehow, I felt that I wasn’t ready, and that I had managed to fake my way through college. That presentation was one of the first times that I felt confident in what I had learned and my ability to explain it to someone effectively. This has given me a lot of confidence for the future. Going from not knowing a thing about this field two years ago all the way to explaining edge of field practices to landowners is quite a jump, and something that I’m proud of.

Water Rocks! and ILF have really shaped my educational career, and it is an experience that I will take with me and remember for a long time.

Andrew Hillman is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Hillman grew up in Bettendorf and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Biosystems Engineering. He is off to North Carolina State University to pursue a graduate degree in the fall.

Bioreactor Installation a Success

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The rain didn’t dampen the excitement of a new bioreactor being installed near Albert City last night. Olie and Lois Leimer were pleased to share their newest conservation practice on their farm with fellow farmers, landowners and contractors at our field day.

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Lois and Olie Leimer discussing their new bioreactor being installed behind them with Lee Gravel, Headwaters of the North Raccoon Watershed Coordinator.

The Leimers are long time implementers of conservation practices. They began using no-till many years ago in an effort to save on fuel and time. They have also added cover crops to their farm to reduce soil erosion and improve soil health and water quality.

“It’s a work in progress. We’re always looking for ways to improve our farm and our impact on water quality,” state Olie.

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Field day attendees were able to check out the bioreactor site and hear from Brian Heinsohn, owner of Heinsohn Digging & Tiling, who led the contractor installation team.

Leimer approached the local Natural Resources Conservation Service about two years ago to begin the process of installing the bioreactor.  Together with Lee Gravel, Headwaters of the North Raccoon Watershed Coordinator, and ISG in Storm Lake to design and construct the bioreactor, the finished edge of field practice will treat about 80 acres of drained row crop acres.

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Nearly completed bioreactor.

The actual installation process goes fairly quickly. The trench and control structures were installed on Monday and by Tuesday afternoon the woodchips were delivered. They would have finished on Tuesday, but the area was left open so attendees could view the trench and woodchips. In total there is about 3.5 feet of woodchips that will be covered by about one foot of soil. Once the soil is in place, a pollinator habitat mix will be seeded over the bioreactor.

The bioreactor will be monitored for how nitrate removal throughout the upcoming years as partners work to meet the goals of the Iowa Nutrient reduction strategy. If you are interested in installing a bioreactor on your farm you can contact Iowa Learning Farms or your local NRCS office.

Be sure to check out upcoming field days in your area by visit our events page!

Liz Juchems

Attend an Upcoming Field Day Near You!

ILFHeader(15-year)Mark your calendars and be sure to submit your RSVP for a field day near you this summer. We will be hosting more in July, August, and September – so stay tuned for more information later this summer.

June 11, Bioreactor Field Day
5:30-7:30pm
Hosted by Olie Leimer
1598 Highway 3
Albert City, IA
Buena Vista County
Partners: Land Improvement Contractors Association, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa Corn
Press Release
Flyer

June 13, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
5:30-7:30pm
Smeltzer Farm
2610 Nelson Ave
Otho, IA
Webster County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Press Release
Flyer

June 18, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
5:30-7:30pm
Spirit Lake Community Center
1602 15th St
Spirit Lake, IA
Dickinson County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Press Release
Flyer

July 9, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
10:00am-12:00pm
Whiterock Conservancy Burr Oak Visitor’s Center
1436 IA-141
Coon Rapids, IA
Guthrie County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

 

Are you interested in hosting a field day? Contact Liz Juchems, ejuchems@iastate.edu or 515-294-5429 to get the planning started!

 

A Huge Thank You!

ILFHeaderOn behalf of the Iowa Learning Farms team, I would like to thank all of our hosts, speakers and partners for an awesome 2018 Field Day season. This year our 24 field days and workshops were attended by 1,134 farmers, landowners, government employees, students and educators, media and agribusiness staff. The topics covered included: cover crops, grazing cover crops, soil health, strip-till/no-till, bioreactors and other edge of field practices, water quality, Emerging Farmers and events for women landowners.  Implementing these practices on our landscape is so important in helping us reach our Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

Keep an eye out for mail from us 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 2019 event near you.

Hilary Pierce

 

A Challenge for the New Year

CLGHeaderJamie Benning | Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Water Quality Program Manager

Late last month, farm advisors, consultants, agronomists and farmers gathered for the 30th annual Integrated Crop Management Conference.  Over these years, participants have been able to choose from well over 100 sessions on the latest research and recommendations for soil management and water quality from the field to watershed scale. Since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) was introduced in 2013, there have been additional sessions focused on reducing nitrate-nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loss.

ICM 2018This year, Matt Helmers, Mark Licht and I led two interactive sessions with about 60 participants each with the objectives of reinforcing the goals of the NRS, discussing specific practices and their costs and effectiveness, and encouraging dialogue and deeper thinking about the challenges to meeting these goals. We used an online tool called Kahoot and participants responded to each question anonymously using their smartphones.

The groups did a great job identifying the major sources of nitrate-N and P loss from agricultural systems and selecting practices that will most effectively reduce loss within the field and at the edge of field.  This is positive feedback for ISU Extension, Iowa Learning Farms, and many other agriculture and conservation organizations that have developed and delivered outreach and professional development opportunities for this audience over the past five years.

Understanding and ranking cost effectiveness was a bit more challenging for the group, indicating that we need to double down on our outreach and education on recent research and scenarios to better reinforce this information as it is critical for decision-making.

As we moved into discussing the challenges of reaching the INRS goals, one of the discussion questions asked the participants to identify THE major barrier to adopting wetlands, saturated buffers, and bioreactors, three major edge-of-field nitrate-N reduction practices.  The four options we gave the groups are four very common barriers to adopting practices:

  1. Costs are too high
  2. It is too time consuming to work with agencies to install practices
  3. Landowner-tenant relationships are challenging
  4. Farmers and landowners are not feeling a sense of urgency to install these practices.

I was very surprised that 38% of both groups selected the lack of a sense of urgency as the top barrier to adoption. 

The costs of practice installation came in nearly tied with 33% selecting it as the top barrier. In discussions with similar groups and with conservation colleagues, I hear the cost limitations much more frequently, especially in the past few years of low commodity prices, along with the other two choices.  In response to the other three barriers, significant outreach and incentive programs have been developed and modified to address these concerns. Farmers’ sense of urgency is rarely discussed.

The response to this question caused me to reflect on how our outreach programs may be influencing this lack of urgency.  Leaders agree that we have measured increases in funding and technical assistance, the number of learning opportunities available to farmers, landowners and stakeholders, acres of implemented practices and many other indicators of progress but that we have a huge amount of work yet to do to reduce the size of the hypoxic zone.  The Hypoxia Task Force has set an interim goal of a 20% load reduction in both nitrate-N and P by 2025 and a 45% reduction by 2035.


river restorationMy goal for the New Year is to bring the timelines front and center to convey that the INRS, while voluntary, is not optional and we need to increase our efforts.  I also want to illustrate the relationship between reducing the size of the Gulf Hypoxic Zone and local drinking water quality protection, better habitat and quality of life that result from cleaner rivers and lakes, and the economic development opportunities for small businesses that design and install conservation practices, grow and sell cover crop seed, and beginning farmers seeking to grow their pasture-based livestock operations.

As you reflect on the 2018 growing season and think about goals for next year, I challenge you to set at least one goal related to improving the water quality leaving your farm.  To increase the chances that you will achieve this goal, write it down and talk to someone about it!

Here are a few draft goals to get you started:

  • Stop by your Soil and Water Conservation District office and meet with your local watershed coordinator, they may have financial and technical assistance opportunities for you
  • If you have tile on your farm and have easy access to an outlet, start measuring nitrate-N leaving in the tile.  There are several programs available to help you with tile monitoring, call 515-294-6038 or email me, benning@iastate.edu, and I can help you get started
  • Set a time to meet with farmers in your area that have tried cover crops to discuss their experiences and learn from them
  • Set an appointment with your NRCS District Conservationist to review your conservation plan and discuss changes that could be made to improve water and soil quality

To demonstrate to the public that the voluntary system can work, acres of cover crops, numbers of wetlands, bioreactors, and saturated buffers, acres of no-till and many other practices all need to increase sharply over the next few years.  Making one of the commitments I listed or setting your own unique water quality goal will lead to water quality improvement and may make your farm more profitable in the process.

Jamie Benning