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.:
https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/

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 If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Julie Winter

ILF Steering Committee Helping Make A Difference

Jake Hansen | Water Resources Bureau Chief at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS)

ILF_Badge_Multi_SMFor nearly 14 years, Iowa Learning Farms has established and maintained a presence as a respected and trusted source of conservation outreach and education in the state of Iowa and beyond. While many similar programs have come and gone over the years in shorter cycles, ILF has managed to remain at the forefront of the public dialogue around great things happening in conservation and opportunities that lie ahead.

The lion’s share of the credit for this should be given to the staff and the cooperators that have worked tirelessly to advocate for good land stewardship by farmers and urban dwellers alike. However, there is another group of key stakeholders that have worked with Iowa Learning Farms over the years to identify emerging education needs. That group is the Iowa Learning Farms Steering Committee.

Led by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the ILF Steering Committee includes representative of six organizations that provide financial and technical support to the program. In addition to ISU Extension and Outreach, other agencies and organizations on the committee include the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Iowa Farm Bureau, and Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI).

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Bioreactor: an edge-of-field conservation practice designed to reduce nitrate loss from the field scale

These organizations contribute decades of knowledge on conservation practices and outreach efforts along with access to statewide networks of farmers, agricultural decision makers, and local leaders. Our job is to identify emerging challenges faced by our farming community, as well as opportunities to use demonstrations by local conservation champions. In addition, we want to find means of scaling up implementation of key conservation activities.

The ILF Steering Committee typically meets 3-4 times per year and reviews program activities completed by staff while helping to identify future programming needs. The committee also provides insight and support on outreach funding sources and advises ILF leadership on potential funding opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, committee members are constantly in touch with a broad range of constituents and can provide real-time input on challenges to conservation adoption, ranging from management of cover crops to the economics of land use decisions and much more.

DSCN9848Even if you don’t interact regularly with the Iowa Learning Farms staff, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of these partners if you have a suggestion for a field day or a conservation issue that might merit some attention. ILF and the Steering Committee are always looking for input from our audiences on how to help decision makers balance conservation ethics with the economic realities of modern farming. Additionally, if you have recently attended an ILF field day, consider attending others, as the topics and the network of people you will meet continue to evolve!

Jake Hansen

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.

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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.

Water Rocks!: The Man

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Jack Schilling, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2017-2018.

Another month has passed by, and with it another month of exciting adventures for me with Water Rocks! Assemblies, classroom visits, and lots of fun all along the way. But on top of these, there is one other thing that I have been working on throughout the past month: our new-old video series, Water Rocks! Man.

New-old. What do I mean by that? Water Rocks! Man originally aired on the Water Rocks! Facebook page in the spring and summer of 2016. Some were short music videos, and others were quick messages about conservation, with our superhero, Water Rocks! Man, featured in each video. Then, like all great superheroes, he retired from a life of heroism, and the series was retired with him.

Fast forward to the present day. Water Rocks! Man (Todd Stevens) has finally come back from retirement, and is ready to teach students about conservation once more. But now, Doctor Pollution (Nate Stevenson) has risen to try and spread pollution wherever he goes, and Water Rocks! Man, along with Agent Ag (Megan Koppenhafer), must stop him while educating about conservation practices.

Throughout the process of filming Water Rocks! Man, although the weather has occasionally not been kind to us (superhero and agent clothing is not warm!), everyone has enjoyed themselves and I’m excited to share the first few episodes soon. The project has certainly kept me busy, as I write, direct, film, and edit every episode. I really enjoy working on videos, especially editing, so it’s been a blast!

Keep an eye out for new Water Rocks! Man episodes throughout the next few months. I, along with the rest of the cast, hope you enjoy them!

Jack Schilling

 

Why the delivery scale?

When it comes to monitoring water quality, there are quite a number of factors to consider: What are you monitoring for? How is land utilized within the targeted area?  How, when, where, and for how long will water samples be collected? Under what flow conditions? The scale at which you monitor really makes a difference!

The plot scale is valuable for looking at the impacts of specific in-field management practices. Plot scale (or field-scale) monitoring is where most of the pollutant export and delivery data come from that informed the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Treatments can also be easily replicated on the plot scale. However, it’s challenging to properly scale up plot-level measurements to the area of practice implementation to truly assess water quality impacts across landscapes and with multiple practices.

Monitoring on the watershed scale allows us to look at the collective impacts over a much larger land area.  For instance, watershed-scale monitoring provides a broad picture of water quality challenges and aids in the identification of impaired waters. When monitoring on the watershed scale, measurements inherently include what’s happening on the land (field scale practices), plus field-to-stream transport, plus in-stream processes (bed and bank processes).  It certainly provides a comprehensive look the big picture, but you can’t “sort” out the different contributions of what’s happening in-field versus in-stream.

In between these two lies the delivery scale.  Delivery scale monitoring occurs at the point where water is delivered to a creek or stream. For instance, with drainage research, this would be the point where the tile main surfaces and water empties into a stream. In a nutshell, the delivery scale reflects the direct water quality impacts from an agricultural area, minus the potential confounding effects of in-stream processes like bed and bank erosion. Here at the Iowa Learning Farms, we’d argue that this is truly a sweet spot for looking at the impacts of specific conservation practices.

You need to monitor at the delivery scale if you want to know specifically what the agricultural impacts are.  That’s exactly what we’re striving towards with the Conservation Learning Labs project.

Within a small watershed area (several hundred acres), can we get a substantial percentage of producers adopting a conservation practice, like cover crops, and then measure corresponding water quality improvements at the delivery scale?  Modeling suggests so, and this project will quantify what nutrient load reductions are actually realized thanks to large scale, targeted adoption of cover crops.

Cover crops were seeded for the first time in fall 2017 within our two Conservation Learning Labs project sites.  Stay tuned for results as we look at the water quality (and soil health) impacts of substantial cover crop adoption on the delivery scale!

Ann Staudt

Conservation Chat: We must clean up our water sources voluntarily

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Ben Johnson and his wife Amy.

This month, host Jacqueline Comito has a conversation with a farmer in northeast Iowa. Ben Johnson is a sixth generation farmer that purchased his first farm with his brother Andy when he was a sophomore at Iowa State University. Conservation saves him one of his most valued resources on the farm: time.

Johnson takes part in our Conservation Learning Lab program with a small scale watershed and CREP wetland on a neighbors property. He and his family began using cover crops in 2013, a year that had a terribly wet spring. They had 200-300 acres that were too wet to plant and didn’t want them to sit bare all year so they took an old seeder and ran oats and radishes that August. He noticed an improvement in the soil tilth right away and in the beans produced that fall. 2013 was also the year that they introduced strip-tilling, increasing water absorption and yield in those areas.

Other conservation methods Johnson employs are buffer strips, prairie CRP, pollinator habitats, field windbreaks and a pheasant safe program. Johnson says, “The easiest place for somebody to start is no-tilling their beans. They don’t really seem to respond to tillage and it’s such a labor and money eater. That’s the biggest reason we switched. The most precious resource on my farm is time.”

“I hope my kids can be the seventh generation (to farm) so it means a lot to me to leave the land in as good or better shape than it was when I started,” that means the soil needs to be productive and the water needs to run clear “I want all my black soil still on top of my hills and not at the bottom of all of them, not in my road ditches and not in the Cedar River.”

Listen to this Episode of Conservation Chat to learn about the numerous benefits of strip-till, no-till and cover crops and how easy it can be to get started! You can subscribe to the podcast for future episodes as well.

Brianne Osborn

Going the Extra Yard

A few years ago, Liz, Matt and I attended the funeral of Barry Kusel, one of our dedicated ILF farmer partners. Barry had passed away unexpectedly right before Thanksgiving that year. Barry was always someone we could turn to when we needed a strong advocate for cover crops or no till. Attending his funeral was important. None of us knew the rest of his family but I kept thinking that Barry was always willing to go wherever we asked him to go in order to help educate others about cover crops. Since Barry was always there when we needed him, we needed to be there for his family when they needed us. I know it meant a lot to his mother and his wife that we would come from Iowa State to pay our respects.

Two people in my own life really stand out for helping me learn the lesson of going the extra yard for folks: Joe Gronstal and Steve Padgitt. They didn’t teach me so much by their words but by their actions.

Joe was an old friend of the family but I really got to know him when he invited me to spend the summer at his house on Spirit Lake years ago. I was young and sort of in between things. A summer on the lake sounded great. Joe was an “old school” guy. He had his own way of doing things around the house and he was good at getting everyone around him to do it his way. You knew you were in trouble when Joe would look at you with that twinkle in his eye and say, “Well, I was thinking maybe we should try…” That summer, I would go along with whatever he asked me to help out with. His kids still tease me about how he got me to sit in the canoe and paint the side of the dock. He thought it would be easier. Trust me, it wasn’t easier.

What really stands out to me from that summer was how generous Joe was with his time and resources. He would drive hours one-way to visit a sick friend or do a favor for a friend. He was always looking out for his neighbors. He would point out to me the importance of being there in person for other people. My parents also did that in their lives but Joe used to go to such lengths to be there for his friends and neighbors that it really impacted me.Steve Padgitt was the sociology professor who first hired me for the Iowa Learning Farms project in 2004. Steve was a really good guy and I was so lucky to get to work with him before he retired. He was incredibly generous with his time as he gave me a crash course in the social aspects of agriculture. He was a great listener. After decades of Extension work, he knew agriculture and rural Iowa but he was still interested in my insights.

In the beginning, our primary task with Iowa Learning Farms was to send out a baseline survey to assess the status of conservation practices in Iowa. We needed to report regionally and so we needed a large response rate. We sent out thousands of letters and surveys. Steve signed every one of those letters. He made it clear to me that I should always hand-sign the letters I sent with a survey. Steve said that if we were going to ask the person to take the time to fill out the survey, we could take the time to sign our names. In other words, he was telling me not to ask more of other people than we are willing to give. Make the extra effort in what you do and people will respond.Now that I am director of the Iowa Learning Farms, I constantly remind myself of these principles as we are developing programming and doing our day-to-day activities. We have tried to be generous with our resources and our time. It is one of the reasons we still exist after 13 years. We try to be present in the state as often as possible through field days and community events. We make the extra effort. We could do none of this without our farmer partners.

Through the years, our farmer partners like Barry have been the living embodiment of these principles. They show up in person for others and they are cheerfully generous with their time and resources. They participate in important on-farm research and are always trying to find additional ways they can build soil health, reduce nutrient loss and improve the health of our land and water. They aren’t asking other farmers to do more than they are willing to do. They make conservation and water quality practices work on the land while they still continue to produce good yields and earn a decent living.

During this Thanksgiving season, on behalf of the Iowa Learning Farms team, I would like to thank our farmer partners for all they do on the land to make our state healthy, for all you do in being present to others across the state, and all you do to make our program a success! Thank you!

Jacqueline Comito