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.”

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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.

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“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).

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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

Chatting with Lisa Schulte Moore about Ecology and Biodiversity

Have you heard our newest Conservation Chat? Our 26th podcast in the Conversation Chat series features Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore, Iowa State University Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology & Management. Iowa Learning Farms Director, Jacqueline Comito, speaks with Schulte Moore, who is co-founder of the STRIPs (Science-based Trails of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips) project. This project, based out of ISU with test strips in operation on the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and various private lands, is the first scientific field study promoting the use of prairie strips on agricultural land as a water quality and conservation practice.

dscn1150c“I’ve always been, when it comes to science, an innovator,” Schulte Moore tells Comito. Schulte Moore worked as a post-doctoral associate for the U.S. Forest Service before coming to ISU thirteen years ago. Her research specialty is in historical ecology and forestry land management, with an emphasis on bird habitats and populations. While her educational background is highly focused on forest ecology, she has found herself more focused on prairie ecosystems and row crop agriculture through her work with the STRIPs project. She says this about the transition in her research focus:

A prairie isn’t that different from an old growth forest, it’s just that all the biomass is below the ground. But you can get something that looks, at least above ground, like a prairie much more quickly than you can get an old growth forest. And so in some ways it’s a little bit more satisfying because I can see more of my impact in my lifetime.

Schulte Moore tells Comito about not only the dramatic water quality benefits from converting 10-20% of agricultural land into prairie, but the increase in wildlife biodiversity and its benefits as well. She says the results from just the first five years of scientific data on twelve experimental catchments at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge are unprecedented: a 7-fold increase in native birds and insects, a 4-fold increase in the total abundance of insects (including a 3.47-fold increase in native pollinators), and a 15% increase in natural enemies (insects that feed on crop pests).

Why should we care about having greater biodiversity of wildlife in our agricultural lands? Schulte Moore tells us that birds, for example, offer humans many benefits—they act as a “canary” for measuring the health of an ecosystem: the more bird biodiversity, the healthier and more balanced the surrounding ecosystem. Birds control insect pests by preying on insect populations, and also eat weed seeds in cropland. And many humans enjoy observing and feeding different types of birds.

Are you a farmer who is interested in learning more about how to put prairie strips onto your land? Are you interested in learning more about the benefits of adding strips to row crops, the funding and costs, and possibilities for implementing prairie strips in new locations on your land in the future? Or maybe you are curious about Dr. Schulte Moore’s self-affirmed obsession with fire, or her special talent related to ornithology. If any of these things spark your interest, then this Conservation Chat is right up your alley. Click on the image below to be taken to the Conservation Chat with Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore!

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Brandy Case Haub

A Conservation Chat with the 2016 Iowa Conservation Woman of the Year, Susan Kuennen Massman

Susan Kuennen Massman describes herself as having “a lot of irons in the fire.” Massman’s many roles include farm manager, nurse, professor, Master Gardener, artist, award-winning basket weaver, conservationist and volunteer. Recently added to this list is 2016 winner of the Iowa Conservation Woman of the Year Award, presented by the Iowa Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners at their 70th Annual Conference in August.

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Iowa Learning Farms Director Jacqueline Comito sat down with Massman at her home in northeast Iowa, where she manages 160 acres of farmland. During this most recent Conservation Chat, Massman describes her last six years of living and working on a farm as living out a life-long dream. Massman waited forty years to be able to break into farming before she and her late husband purchased their Fayette County land in 2010.

Massman sought to educate herself about modern farming practices, and participated in Annie’s Project to help her achieve that goal (Annie’s Project is a nonprofit that seeks to educate farm women and strengthen their roles in modern farm enterprises). Conservation has long been on her mind when it came to being a steward of her land. Massman attributes her motivation and commitment to conservation to a book by Rachel Carson entitled “Silent Spring,” where the author says, “It is not half so important to know as it is to feel when teaching children about nature.” Massman builds on this to say:

We need to teach children how important the land is, and how important our plants and flowers are, [how they] benefit us, and the whole world. You know, the spider web effect; like one thing connects to another. So it’s teaching- not only children, but my own children, how important this land is to us.

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Massman now manages her land to include a corn/soybean/alfalfa rotation in an effort to keep from depleting the soil. About her choice to plant alfalfa, she says:

Alfalfa has one of the deepest root systems of any green vegetation out there, and I knew that was going to hold the topsoil. So to me, it was a win-win: that I could plant something that was productive, that I could earn some money from, and to conserve as much topsoil as possible. There was a definite impact there. In places in the field where I saw that there were deep ditches and gullies, they weren’t there anymore. So I knew that I was doing something right.

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To hear more about the admirable efforts to farm in a conservation-minded way, check out this Conservation Chat with Susan Kuennen Massman!

Brandy Case Haub

 

Chatting about river ecology, restoration, and policy

Labor Day weekend is just around the corner… planning to spend any time out on one of Iowa’s rivers?  The latest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast features an interview with Molly Hanson, Executive Director of the nonprofit river advocacy group Iowa Rivers Revival.

Listening to this podcast, you will quickly hear how Hanson’s energy and enthusiasm runneth over – she is extremely passionate about the environment, ecology, and education … oh, and turtles, too!

ConservationChat-Hanson(angle)Iowa Rivers Revival is a statewide advocacy group, working to restore Iowa’s river ecosystems to a healthier state of functioning. That may be through streambank stabilization work, in-stream work, and/or dam modification/mitigation. River restoration also involves working with citizens across the state – talking with farmers and landowners about in-field conservation practices, and working with urban residents to build awareness of issues like stormwater.

“Rivers are conveyor belts of water and soil – that’s what they are, and they’re constantly moving both of those things.”

Hanson comes to IRR from the naturalist/county conservation world, and it’s clear that education also continues to be a passion of hers.

“The education, especially of kids, is such a key piece. They’ve gotta get out there and see it for themselves and have their ‘aha’ moment … then they’re way more likely to care and to take care of it. Science teachers, mentors, family, grandparents: we’ve got to get kids outside!”

So I mentioned turtles earlier …  One of Hanson’s other projects has involved working with IRR and other conservation groups to push for new legislation to protect four different species of aquatic turtles (snappers, spiny softshell, smooth softshell, and painted turtles).  Many of these turtles are being commercially harvested and sent overseas, with no protected seasons or catch limits in our state. Hanson helped to champion a bill that will put regulations in place to help protect these species – every species has an important role to play in terms of biodiversity and overall ecosystem health!

Tune in to Episode 23 of the Conservation Chat to hear more of this engaging conversation with Molly Hanson! Download or play this podcast and others at www.conservationchat.org.

Ann Staudt