Conservation Chat 35: Clare Lindahl Chats About New Role

Conservation Chat Episode 35 features Clare Lindahl, now CEO of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. As you listen to this podcast episode, one thing will become immediately clear to you: Clare Lindahl is passionate about soil and water conservation.

Clare reflected back onto Hugh Hammond Bennett, the father of soil conservation and the founder of the Soil and Water Conservation Society: “He was responsible for founding the National Resources Conservation Service, he founded the society, he started the districts movement . . . an entire lifetime and career dedicated to soil conservation.” Clare noted. “I have a vest with his face on it.”

Hugh Hammond Bennett used to speak at events called plowing matches in Iowa. Even though the events focused on who could plow the best field, Bennett began giving speeches at these events and turning them into conservation field days.

“In Iowa, we took one of those plowing matches . . . and we made it into a conservation field day back in the 1950’s,” Clare commented. “It was really the first event of its kind. It reminds me of one of those home and garden television shows where you make over a house or you make over a yard. They made over a farm and showed how all of these conservation practices can go in. Those plowing matches that drew all those people in, they used that as an opportunity to show them about conservation at the time.”

Clare described the passion that Hugh Hammond Bennett exuded when he talked about conservation. Clare holds that same passion, yet it expands beyond soil conservation into water conservation and watershed-wide partnerships.

“The partnership building at Conservation Districts of Iowa was my favorite thing. I just loved bringing people together around the table to come up with actions and solutions and get things really done. I look forward to being able to do that on a national scale.”

natl_conf_covercrops_soilhealth_log_09D291130F2D8Keep an eye out for Clare as she forges a new path as the first woman to serve in the role of CEO of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. Also consider attending the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health on December 7 and 8 in Indianapolis.

Learn how cover crops are being used from producers, conservation leaders and scientists. The conference is great for those selling, using, or researching cover crops.

Clare3Listen to Episode 35 of the Conservation Chat with the new CEO of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Clare Lindahl! Listen to this episode on the go from your smart phone or tablet. You can also stream the Conservation Chat podcast right from your computer.

Julie Whitson

Navigating the return of the next generation to the family farm

Chris and Kristi BlogThe most recent episode of the Conservation Chat podcast provides a candid look at how one father/daughter duo is navigating the addition of another household to the farm business, the joys and challenges that come with working with family, and the mutual goals of caring for the land. In Episode 34, host Jacqueline Comito met with Chris Foss and Kristi Heffelmeier at their farm in Northeast Iowa to chat about their whole farm approach to conservation.

The farm has been in the family for many generations, with Chris first farming with his father.  Kristi grew up on the farm and now lives with her husband at her grandparents place nearby. However, her path to farming was a winding one – first a degree in art education, then a Masters in Business and working in the corporate business world, next up was teaching middle school art in Texas before returning home to the family farm in 2013.

When she returned to Iowa, Kristi understood she had a lot to learn and wasn’t ready to take on a large financial stake in the farm.  Through open communication, she and Chris landed on an hourly payment rate arrangement that helped support the addition of another household. This agreement allows them flexibility to grow and learn from each other while utilizing the skills and passions each of them bring to the partnership.

Together they have a worked with the local watershed projects in Black Hawk and Tama Counties to maintain and add new conservation practices to the operation.  They are nearly 100% strip-tillage (corn), no-tillage (soybeans), and cover crops on 850 of their 2,200 acres to help protect the soil. They have also installed and maintained waterways and a bioreactor that treats about 80 acres along Miller Creek. The bioreactor is being monitored by Shane Wulf as part of Miller Creek Watershed Project that was featured in Episode 33 of the Conservation Chat.

Kristi and Puppy BlogKristi’s return to the farm, also meant the return of livestock – although not the variety we may be used to!  She and her husband breed competition Labrador dogs and sell them all over the country.  And although Chris had gotten used to the quiet without livestock, he has taken a shining to Hogan, Kristi’s indoor pet.

Be sure to tune into this episode to learn more about how they are managing the transition of a child’s return to the farm and the benefits of working together to care for our natural resources. You can also download or listen to any of the previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and through iTunes.

Liz Juchems

Working Within Our Current System: A Conservation Chat with Eileen Kladivko

Cover kladivko_creditHost Jacqueline Comito sat down with Dr. Eileen Kladivko, Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University and founding member of the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC), for the most recent episode of the Conservation Chat podcast.

Eileen Kladivko’s chat covered many issues areas that she has studied for decades surrounding soil health, cover crops, earthworms and drainage. To start the chat off, Eileen wanted to make something clear: drainage is essential.

“I like to remind people that we wouldn’t be growing crops at all on some of our most productive lands in the Midwest if we didn’t have tile drainage.”

Tile drainage is essential if we want to farm much of the land that we currently farm – especially in Iowa. While there are benefits to tile drainage, a drawback of the system is the movement of nitrate with water that flows out of tile lines and into the surface water. How can we begin to solve this challenge? Mimic nature and the system that we replaced, Eileen suggested.

We’ve got agriculture, we’ve got lots of human beings here, and we want to be productive. We want to mimic nature where we can, but we’re not going back to pre-settlement conditions. That’s impossible. But let’s see if there are some things we can learn from what the vegetation cycles were, and the hydrology cycles, that can help us with our current system.”

Adding cover crops to our current system is one way to address our nitrate challenge and to mimic the natural vegetation cycle that once existed on the land. Cover crops have seen a steady increase in popularity, and for some farmers, the desire to grow something comes naturally.

A subject that Eileen Kladivko is most passionate about is soil health. Soil health is a popular topic because we want our soil to function to full capacity for crop production, but we understand relatively little about the soil biology that can shape the physical and chemical properties of soil. In recent years, the soil health conversation is shifting to research about soil biology. The downside is that soil health research takes time.

“That’s one of the challenges with the whole soil health thing . . . we’re trying to look at some of the commercial soil health tests that are available right now and see which of those might actually be able to detect changes with time in some of our Indiana sites. It’s quite challenging because the tests are quite variable. Soil health does take time to improve, and sometimes those tests just don’t show it over the short term.”

Without lab tests to show short-term gains in soil health, there is one indicator that can give farmers a short-term pat on the back: earthworms! Earthworm populations are highest in systems with limited tillage and high levels of crop residue. Eileen has spent much of her career counting earthworms.

“I didn’t think that was going to be a long-term commitment of mine,” said Eileen. Decades later, Eileen has developed a foundation for research on the physical and chemical properties of soil as they relate to soil health and good soil biology.

What are your chances of having a high earthworm population within a system that includes tillage? Not likely. Switching to no-till and adding a cover crop will increase your chances to see early signs of soil health and good soil biology before other commercial soil health tests are able to show results. Iowa Learning Farms has seen similar results when counting earthworms under different tillage and cover crop systems here in Iowa.

Listen to the full Conservation Chat episode! If you’re on the go, take the Conservation Chat podcast with you – find it on iTunes or search for “Conservation Chat” on the podcast app of your choice!

Julie Whitson

Dr. Bob Hartzler Talks Weeds on Conservation Chat Podcast

Bob_labelIn the latest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast, host Jacqueline Comito sat down with Dr. Bob Hartzler, Professor of Agronomy and Extension Weed Specialist at Iowa State University. Dr. Hartzler has spent decades studying weeds and helping Iowa farmers manage weeds. Most recently, Dr. Hartzler has been involved in the response to Palmer amaranth and its spread into 49 of Iowa’s 99 counties. The Palmer amaranth weed has been particularly difficult for farmers to control, as it has a similar appearance to waterhemp, a common weed in Iowa. Palmer amaranth, however, grows much more quickly than waterhemp, making early Bob_am_label2identification important (before the plant produces seed).

“We’ve gotten complacent with weeds, because, until recently it was so easy to control them with glyphosate and the other products. A lot of people don’t pay as close attention to the weeds as we would have 20, 30 years ago. If we want to stop Palmer amaranth, we need to pay attention to details again.”

The spread of Palmer amaranth is a reminder that we must implement more diverse weed management programs rather than relying exclusively on the power of herbicides. Dr. Hartzler speculated about whether the need for more comprehensive weed management plans might ultimately change our cropping systems.

“Whether we can continue the current production system relying solely on herbicides, I think that’s up in the air. We’re not discovering new herbicides like we were 20 years ago, so we’re running out of options. I think it is going to force us into a more diverse management program . . . It’s hard to believe that something as simple as a weed might force us out of the current production system that we have.”

Palmer vs waterhemp_labelIn the current management system, “We’re relying almost entirely on the herbicides, so that make it very easy for the weeds to adapt,” Hartzler commented. “A more diverse crop rotation would be the best route to go. . . [the weed] has to find a way to survive in a crop that it’s not adapted to.” Tillage is another tactic that farmers have historically turned to for weed management; however, there are many benefits to no-tillage or minimum disturbance of the soil.

larvae3_labelIt’s clear that Dr. Hartzler has a deep passion for weeds, and for helping Iowa farmers find tools to eradicate weeds now and into the future. Tune in to this month’s chat and learn about Palmer amaranth and so much more – cover crops and weed suppression, monarch butterflies and milkweed habitat, and even herbicide carryover related to grazing.

If you’re on the go, take the Conservation Chat podcast with you – find it on iTunes or search for “Conservation Chat” on the podcast app of your choice!

Julie Whitson

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

 

Conservation Chat: Talking Patience and Passion with Farmer Nathan Anderson

In the latest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast, host Jacqueline Comito sat down with Nathan Anderson, a young Iowa farmer who farms in eastern Cherokee County. Nathan’s farm includes row crop corn and soybeans, a cow-calf herd that is rotationally grazed and other conservation practices such as no-till, strip-till, diverse cover crop mixes, nutrient management and CRP.

Nathan graduated from Iowa State in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy. He always knew he wanted to go back to his family’s farm. After a conversation with his father just before graduation, Nathan knew that was the time for him to head back. “My whole life, I’ve wanted to be able to come back and farm,” said Nathan. “I’m really thankful for that opportunity.”

nathan-and-father-randy

The Anderson family made room for Nathan and his wife, Sarah, and allowed the couple to rent some of their own farmland. Alongside his father, Nathan was given room to try new things, including adding cover crops to the operation, beginning rotational grazing for the cow-calf operation, increasing herd size and even changing the genetics of the herd to include cattle that could better utilize the pasture resources he was cultivating.

conservation-chat-blog_cropped

“It takes people like my dad who are willing to let somebody come back into the farming operation,” Nathan said of his father. He recognizes that his father made sacrifices, including “[forgoing] some of that income, and also [letting] me try new things that maybe he doesn’t agree with or doesn’t know about.”

speaking_pfi-field-day-2016As a third-generation farmer, Nathan sees the changes he makes today as an investment for the future legacy of the farm. He also sees the family farm as an important tool. Nathan participates in on-farm research with Iowa Learning FarmsPractical Farmers of Iowa and other organizations to contribute to the knowledge base of cover crops and rotational grazing as he works to minimize the off-farm ecological impacts of his farming practices.

Nathan has become actively involved in the conservation world by not only getting practices on his own land, but also by frequently sharing his experiences at field days, workshops and conferences. He holds several positions, including Cherokee County SWCD Assistant Commissioner, PFI Board Member and Cherokee County Farm Bureau Young Farmer committee member. In the six years that he has been back on the farm, Nathan has had both great and challenging moments. While he has helped to make many changes, he recognizes that there are limits.

“This farming world that we work in, there are a lot of things that we might want to do and we can’t have them all right now,” Nathan commented. “It’s a practice of patience. Patience is active. If you’re being patient, you have to work at it.”

Listen to the Conservation Chat with Nathan Anderson for more of the interview!

Julie Whitson

 

Podcast spotlights a pioneer of precision conservation

Precision agriculture is a unique, emerging field, and it is certainly one that is rapidly evolving before our very eyes. The complex world of remote sensing, big data, ag informatics, statistics, and on-the-ground farm management means there’s a whole lot of data out there … how do we make sense of it all?

Meet Dr. Amy Kaleita. High energy, eternal optimist. Agricultural engineer. Lover of learning. Passionate teacher and researcher. Soil Whisperer (or some might say Soil Listener).

conservationchat-kaleitaangle

Kaleita’s work at Iowa State University is truly at the intersection of conservation, information technology, and the world of precision agriculture. While precision ag technology is commonly used by farmers and crop consultants across the state of Iowa today in such applications as nutrient management (variable rate technology) and precision seed placement, Kaleita is on the forefront of the next generation of precision ag – precision conservation. Kaleita’s research efforts range from studying different sensor technologies, including both embedded [contact] sensors, such as in-the-ground soil moisture sensors, as well as non-contact sensors [data collected from drones], to optimizing the layering of those different technologies to obtain the best data sets possible.

However, collecting the data is just the start —  the real challenge emerges in sorting through huge amounts of data and trying to make sense of it all!  Which is just where Kaleita comes into play, evaluating and analyzing the vast amounts of data collected in the field. She strives to identify patterns and linkages that can help us better understand the relationships between such factors as crop yield variability, precipitation, soil moisture, hydrology, transport of dissolved contaminants (such as nitrate-nitrogen), and on-the-ground conservation practices. As Kaleita puts it, a big part of her job is trying to “understand uncertainty.”

She goes on to explain, “In an agricultural context, there are so many sources of unexplained variability … things that you do on the landscape that cause results, but they cause different responses under different conditions, and so how do those conditions change over time and space?

“The soil is very different, and it changes over time, and it certainly changes over space. The rain, and the air temperature, and the wind speed, and all of that stuff cause responses in the crop and they cause the interaction between the crop and the soil to change. And so [we’re] trying to understand all of the things that cause those differences, and then trying to design systems that can be responsive to that variability.”

Tune in to Episode 27 of the Conservation Chat for more of this fascinating conversation with Dr. Amy Kaleita!  You can also download or listen to any of the previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and on iTunes.

Ann Staudt