Water in the Public Domain

Public domain: a concept that evokes thoughts of music, photographs, paintings, and other creative works of art … and their relationships with copyright policy. From another perspective, public domain is all about shared availability, the common good …  much like our natural resources.

As nearly 40 people gathered for a conservation field day at Paustian Family Farm just outside Walcott, IA this past week, this idea of water in the public domain was an ever-present undercurrent in the conversations among area farmers, landowners, rural and urban residents alike.

In addition to in-field conservation practices like reduced tillage, cover crops, and a close eye on nutrient management, host farmer Mike Paustian is now taking conservation to the edge of the field as well. In fall 2017, the Paustians installed a saturated buffer on their land to specifically address the challenge of nitrates in tile drainage water.

Saturated buffers are a field-scale practice, treating subsurface tile drainage water from 30-80 acres of cropland. The presence of an existing streamside vegetative buffer is a great first step, and makes the installation a breeze. In order to “saturate” the existing buffer, a flow control structure and lateral tile line running parallel to the stream (700’ long, in this case) are installed.

Quite a bit of the water then moves through that new perforated tile line parallel to the stream, slowly trickling out of the tile, working its way through the soil. On this journey to the stream, the water is in direct contact with plant roots and the soil itself – where the biological process of denitrification occurs. Under saturated, anaerobic conditions, naturally occurring bacteria breathe in the nitrate, and then transform it to atmospheric N2 gas, sending cleaner water to the stream (to the tune of 40-50% nitrate reduction).

As folks got to see the saturated buffer firsthand, one of the attendees asked Paustian, “As a city person, why should somebody from Davenport, Pleasant Valley, etc. care about what’s going on out here?”

Paustian responded, “We’re all in this together, using the same water. It’s a limited resource. We’ve got to find common ground – urban and rural – being good stewards of our land and water. That’s why saturated buffers matter out here.”

Washington Co. farmer Steve Berger, an early adopter and long-term user of cover crops, emphasized the benefits of cover crops for water quality, promoting infiltration and likewise minimizing soil erosion.  Berger added, “Anything that comes off this field ends up in the public domain somewhere … long-term no-till and cover crops are working together to keep soil and nutrients in place in the field!”

As Iowa’s water quality continues to garner attention locally, statewide, and even on the national level, that concept of water in the public domain resonates strongly. Bringing urban and rural people together to see how we can work for positive improvements in water quality is a step in the right direction. This field day was an excellent example of the engaging conversations and positive dialogue we at Iowa Learning Farms hope to facilitate surrounding water quality, soil health, and our agricultural production systems across the state of Iowa.

Ann Staudt

Growing Healthy Relationships: Key to Farming

When it comes to success in farming, it’s all about relationships: with neighbors, landowners, tenants, family, bankers, tax professionals, USDA and extension specialists, and the larger local community. And most importantly, relationships with the land.

The relationship theme ran deep at the inaugural Emerging Farmers Forum, August 1-2, hosted by Iowa Learning Farms and southwest Iowa farmer Seth Watkins.  The new Emerging Farmers project is a proactive initiative that reaches out to emerging farmers and future landowners, offering insight into integrating successful business and financial operations with conservation, caring for the land that carries deep familial and emotional ties.

Our Emerging Farmers Forum brought together seven emerging farmers from across the state, each with a unique situation and story to share. Some of the participants were actively farming with family, raising livestock and/or row crops. Others were landowners trying to discern the best ways to responsibly care for the land in their hands. From a personal perspective, we both can be considered emerging farmers, having grown up on family farms in Butler and Floyd Counties, respectively. While not involved in day-to-day operations, as future landowners we both have a desire to see the land nurtured for years to come.

Finished artwork

Farming is a science and an art! Proudly showing off our mixed media barn collages.

The two-day Emerging Farmers Forum was packed full of information and insight, good food and fellowship, multiple farm tours on the hay rack, and a shared vision for healthy farms and vibrant rural communities, all interwoven with Watkins sharing his personal stories and experiences from his little “slice of paradise” on Pinhook Farm outside New Market, IA.

Consider our Top 5 take home points that really resonated with us throughout the forum:

1. Relationships are key. Nurturing relationships with landowners and neighbors is a big deal, and it’s all about building trust. Seemingly little things like mowing a drive or cleaning up the grounds with a weed eater can make a big difference to landowners. Relationships are key on the business end of things, also. Consult with your banker and your tax advisor/CPA – they are there to help you succeed!

“Age doesn’t matter. Relationships matter a lot.” – Seth Watkins

“Younger farmers are really proactive. It’s exciting to work with them and be a part of that journey for 30-40 years.” – Jake Jobe, Bank Iowa

2. Balance taxes and debt.

“Don’t do all of your business planning around avoiding taxes. You don’t go broke paying taxes. You only pay taxes when you’re making money.” – Frank Comito

3. Consider what business opportunities are right around you. Embrace innovation. Diversifying the operation makes smart business sense, whether that be offering custom planting/spraying services, adding a herd of goats, or embracing the agritourism trend.

 “Start small. Start with what you are comfortable with and grow the innovations that work.” – Seth Watkins

“The most successful businesses come from those with passion, pursuing something they truly care about.” – Kevin Kimle, Rastetter Chair of Agricultural Entrepreneurship at Iowa State University

4. Conservation is a long-term investment in the land. It’s all about working in harmony with the land – strategic placement is key.

As Seth described, “Sure, I could grow corn and soybeans all over the place out here, but looking at this land, it makes most sense that it’s in perennial vegetation and grazed by cattle.” The same thing applies with prairie strips and areas of timber on his land. “I love cows, but I really love the land.”

5. Pause and enjoy. Find your happy place. For Seth, that means taking a trek out to a peaceful wetland in his pasture – water full of life (you should see the frogs!), surrounded by healthy wetland plants, abundant bird calls in the air, and adjacent to an extensive timber.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, but I can come out here, hear the birds all around, take it all in, and it puts everything in perspective.”

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What does it take to make it work as an emerging farmer or landowner? Passion, drive, love of the land, willingness to work, sacrifice, problem solving, and creativity were common themes that emerged. Nurturing a healthy ecosystem and vibrant communities takes every single one of us. The land is in good hands with folks like Seth Watkins and this exceptional group of emerging farmers leading the way.

Liz and Ann

ILF Director Jacqueline Comito to Deliver Prichard Lecture on Conservation Education at SWCS Conference

Lecture will highlight the importance of continuous education in continuing to build a culture of conservation in future generations

Jackie

 

Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms are pleased to announce that Jacqueline Comito, director of both programs, has been selected to deliver the prestigious Pritchard Lecture at the 73rd International Annual Conference of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. Taking place July 29 through August 1, 2018 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the event is the premier gathering of conservation experts and advocates of building a better planet for the benefit of society.

The keynote, entitled “Building a Culture of Conservation”, takes place at 10:00 am on July 30th. Drawing on examples from Iowa Learning Farms outreach program, Comito will highlight ways to build an inclusive culture of conservation that inspires actions to preserve natural resources in our lives. In addition, she will discuss the application of youth educational programming which can lead to more sensitive stewardship of our cultural history and natural environment, thereby empowering another generation to embrace the fundamental value of simple conservation techniques which are open to everyone.

“Building a culture of conservation means that the preservation of our natural resources becomes the defining characteristic of our actions,” noted Comito. “In order to do this, our messages have to go beyond the science to engaging curiosity, creativity and compassion or we won’t succeed. We also need to be reaching out to everyone from youth to farmers, ranchers and landowners. I am honored to be selected to deliver the Prichard Lecture and share some of our successes and challenges in promoting conservation in Iowa.”

The Iowa Learning Farms programs provide educational outreach to farmers and participants in the agriculture industry through field days, webinars, podcasts, and seminars held throughout Iowa each year. Water Rocks! delivers youth conservation education through its classroom and school assembly programs. Both organizations utilize a fleet of Conservation Station trailers to engage and promote conversations about conservation technology advancements, demonstrations of effective runoff management and mitigation structures, and simple through complex best practices.

To learn more about Iowa Learning Farms outreach and education programs, please visit http://www.iowalearningfarms.org. To find out about Water Rocks!, please visit http://waterrocks.org/

Liz Juchems

Bioreactors – One Piece of the Conservation Puzzle

Learning about denitrifying bioreactors drew a good crowd of farmers and landowners from Central Iowa – and beyond – to the Iowa Learning Farms and Prairie Rivers of Iowa field day on Tuesday, July 17th.  As a relatively new practice designed to reduce losses of nitrates from tile drained water, the crowd on Tuesday showed a high level of awareness and were eager to learn how bioreactors and other edge of field practices fit in to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.IMG_4865

Local landowner Joe Ruetter installed a bioreactor on his farm last fall and has been pleased with the results of reducing nitrate in his tile water.

“We collected a sample a few days ago and the tile water coming in was running about 10-20 ppm of nitrate – well above the safe drinking water standard of 10ppm. At the end of the bioreactor is was 3-5ppm. So I would say the bioreactor is working very well so far.”

Joe also brought up that bioreactors are designed to address nitrate but don’t help with phosphorus so other conservation practices – like no-till and cover crops – are also needed to help reach our goals.

IMG_4862Jace Klein, with Ecosystems Services Exchange, also emphasized the importance of utilizing the right practice in the right place.

“All conservation practices have a place on the landscape. It’s a matter of fitting the right practice in the right location so as to maximize the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the practice,” stated Jace.

In combination with the Conservation Station On The Edge demonstrating the science of denitrification, Jace pointed out the scope to which each practice is capable of treating.

“If you have 40-120 acres next to a stream or creek, a saturated buffer would be the first practice we would explore. If that same sized field doesn’t outlet to a stream, then a bioreactor should be considered. However, if we are looking at multiple connections of tile draining much larger areas the most effective practice to consider would be a wetland,” explained Jace.IMG_4847

By utilizing all the pieces of the puzzle – in-field and edge of field practices – the goals of reducing the losses of nitrogen and phosphorus from our landscape are possible. We have gathered many great resources about edge of field and in-field practices on our website: www.iowalearningfarms.org. You can also visit with your local NRCS office to determine which practices are best suited for your land and discuss cost share opportunities.

Liz Juchems

 

 

Art and Science create Vision for Future in Conservation Station

The Big Conservation Station trailer is trailblazing to county fairs across the state with a brand new, interactive display presenting a simple question: “What is your hope for Iowa?” Inside the Conservation Station’s learning lab are new mixed media murals showcasing the past, present and future of Iowa’s natural resources. Conservation Station visitors will have the opportunity to engage in discussion and artistic expression of their own – each fairgoer is invited to share their own #HopeForIowa.

“I am hoping to evoke an emotional response to the land, by depicting not a particular place, but ‘every place,’ so each person can relate to it,” explains artist Cecelia Comito of Artworks Studio in Carroll.

Comito collaborated with Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! science director, to create the original mixed media artwork for the Conservation Station trailer, representing an artistic vision that reflects the past, present and the future of our state. The artwork panels illustrate advances in conservation efforts over time, and the potential possibilities as farmers and other Iowans continue to implement effective land management practices to build soil health, improve water quality and increase wildlife habitat.

All the artwork was done on large canvasses at Artworks Studio. Each mixed media panel was built up with extensive layers of torn and cut paper, including such materials as stained and textured papers, pages from recipe books, story books, road maps, plat maps and even sewing patterns. Fine details were added through image transfer, paints, gelatos, watercolor pencils and pastels. Click through the slideshow below for a behind-the-scenes look at how the artwork came together. The finished pieces were imaged on a large scanner and then digitized in order to produce them large enough to place on the walls of the trailer.

“Farming practices have evolved over time, and not always in ways that have been positive for the ecosystem,” explained Staudt. “This new interactive art display will help people envision what’s possible for Iowa’s future and maybe inspire us to see what is possible.”

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In addition to the new artwork, Conservation Station team members employ perennial favorite interactive games and activities including The Watershed Game, The Poo Toss and the Rainfall Simulator to engage fairgoers of all ages.

Upcoming Big Conservation Station Trailer Appearances:
July 17                  Public Radio On Tap, Iowa City
July 18                  Polk Co. Fair
July 19                  Jones Co. Fair
July 20                  Tama Co. Fair
July 21                  Poweshiek Co. Fair
July 25                  Wayne Co. Fair
July 26                  Monroe Co. Fair
July 27                  Fayette Co. Fair
July 28                  Independence Farmers Market
Aug. 4                    Lakes Area Farmers Market, Spirit Lake
Sept. 2                  Glow Wild at Jester Park, Granger

Ann Staudt

Future Farming for the Greater Good

My name is Dawn Henderson, I am a senior in Agronomy here at ISU and this summer I am an intern with the Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms programs. This opportunity has combined two of my passions: conservation agriculture and educating the public. Throughout the summer I have already had many opportunities to work with people of all ages and backgrounds in many different venues, but the message has remained the same: we must appreciate and protect what we have while we have it. In this blog post I wanted to highlight one of the more recent events I had the privilege of attending.

This past Friday, June 22nd, I and two other interns took the newest ILF Conservation Station trailer to Sioux Center, Iowa. This trailer, “On the Edge”, focuses on two of the newest edge-of-field practices farmers have the option of implementing in their fields. Saturated buffers and bioreactors are both relatively new ideas that work to reduce the levels of nitrate in our water by allowing the natural process of denitrification to take place, rather than routing all of the tile drainage water directly into ditches, streams, and waterways. The struggle is, these systems operate entirely underground, and once they are installed observation is not possible, making it difficult to understand how they operate. The On the Edge trailer is beneficial because it provides the opportunity to see what is happening below ground, from the main tile line to the stream.

At this event, hosted by Dordt College, a majority of the audience was comprised of farmers with an interest in conservation. Excellent questions were asked and encouraging conversations were had. Many questions were asked, such as, “How long do each of these practices last?” That answer is different for each structure. The saturated buffer is expected to last indefinitely, with minor upkeep on the flow control structure; the bioreactor is expected to need the woodchips refreshed every 10-15 years.

Due to the fact that both of these practices are still in their infant stages many farmers are curious, but cautious. One of the most common questions was, “How do these practices directly benefit the farmer?” This is a simple question with a difficult answer. Edge-of-field practices are meant to improve the health of our water, meaning the reductions that come from bioreactors and saturated buffers are for the greater good, not necessarily the individual. That does not mean there are no benefits to installing these practices. With the right design and vegetation, these areas could become habitat for wildlife and pollinators. In addition to benefitting wildlife, these practices are also typically installed on marginally producing lands. By taking these lands out of production and putting them into conservation, the landowner may end up saving money, in addition to bettering the environment.

These new practices show promise in the field of conservation to aid in reaching the goal of 45% nitrate reduction, put into place with Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Edge-of-field practices are intended to be used in concurrence with in-field practices, such as no-till and cover crops. By combining all of these practices, nutrient transport and soil erosion can be reduced by a significant amount, allowing Iowa to achieve the goal of reducing our nutrient contribution by 45%.

Based on the level of interest and support I have seen at multiple events with this new trailer, I am hopeful that these two new practices will find a firm place in our Iowan farming culture in the future.

Dawn Henderson

Dawn Henderson is a senior in Agronomy, participating in the 2018 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University. She is a graduate of Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn Senior High School in northwest Iowa. 

June 20 Webinar: Creating Conservation Legacies Through Farm Leases

Soymanure

Watch the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on June 20 at 12:00 p.m. Sara Berges, project coordinator with the Allamakee Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD)will share information about how to leave a conservation legacy by writing conservation into farm leases and how to incorporate cover crops on acres with manure application.

Berges is currently funded through a grant with the Leopold Center which allows her to work with landowners to add conservation in farm leases by updating conservation plans. As an extension of this work, she helps producers write Legacy Reports that document their conservation efforts and goals for their land. Another part of the project involves helping producers figure out how to include cover crops on acres that have manure application.

“Conservation is often left out of lease discussions, but it is vital for ensuring that the land is able to be farmed for years to come,” Berges commented. “I want people to look outside the conservation box, start with a conversation, and brainstorm about what can work and why.”

DATE: Wednesday, June 20, 2018
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Log on as a guest shortly before 12:00 p.m.:
https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/

Don’t miss this webinar! 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: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.