Conservation Chat Marks 50th Episode – And it’s Full Steam Ahead

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Jacqueline Comito | Iowa Learning Farms Director and Conservation Chat Host

The 50th Conservation Chat podcast from Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) went live last month. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, the podcast series covers topics relating to Iowa’s environment, water quality, as well as its biggest industry – Agriculture. I’ve been hosting the series from the beginning, and it’s given me some wonderful opportunities to learn and explore Iowa-centric topics from many angles. With 50 episodes to choose from, I’m pretty sure there’s something of interest for anyone who wants to learn about Iowa.

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Clare Lindahl was the guest on CC35: “Preaching” Conservation

Since my inaugural episode in February 2015 with then Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, I’ve chatted with a huge variety of people who have passions for Iowa, conservation and the environment. Guests have included distinguished experts, on-the-ground researchers, farmers, professionals from farming and conservation groups, and government officials.

I’ve tried to maintain a conversational unscripted format from the beginning of the program. These truly are chats that kick off with me asking interview questions, but the resulting back and forth typically takes on a life of its own. Frequently we’ve riffed on ideas that just came up in the conversation, not talking points either of us had considered when the mics were turned on. It’s fun and I hope the listeners hear that our intent is to inform in a relaxed and entertaining manner. And the casual atmosphere of the program allows us to explore the personality of the guest and bring out what they are passionate about and why.

Another unique part of the program is the inclusion of original music from ILF team members and professional musicians Ann Staudt and Todd Stevens.

Conservation Chats have been downloaded over 11,400 times. This level of interest buoys the spirits of the team to continue to create relevant and interesting content.

Interestingly, the first Conservation Chat continues to garner new downloads. It leads the total download list, and just in the fourth quarter of 2019, 14 new downloads were recorded. Other highflyers still logging new downloads have been CC35: Clare Lindahl: “Preaching” Conservation in September 2017 and CC 38: Earthworms and Cover Crops with Ann Staudt and Dr. Tom Kaspar in January 2018.

 

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Dr. Janke in action at a field day

The milestone 50th Conservation Chat features my chat with Dr. Adam Janke and his list of 20 Things To Do in the 2020s To Increase Wildlife Habitat in Iowa. Some are simple and others more difficult, but the podcast covers a lot of ground about conservation, habitat and the importance of diversity on many levels.

In 2019 I wanted to change things up a little bit to improve engagement with guests and listeners and add some new dimensions to the podcast format. Adding co-hosts was the biggest change, and the changes have brought positive listener feedback. Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, from the Iowa Environmental Council, joined me to as co-host for some episodes. And I teamed up with ISU assistant professor and Extension wildlife specialist Adam Janke for an episode. Adding co-hosts helped change the dynamics of the podcast, moving from a one-on-one Q and A format to more of a group discussion.

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Secretary Naig & Dr. Comito

Looking ahead, in February 2020 I welcome the return of Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Secretary Mike Naig. His 2019 podcast was fast-paced and informative. I’m are looking forward to another great update on progress and goals from the perspective of the State of Iowa.

The podcasts are available with a quick search for Conservation Chats on Apple Podcasts or Spotify as well as on the ILF website.

January 15 Webinar: Overview of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center

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Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, January 15 at 12:00 p.m. about the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

Matthew Helmers (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)Matt Helmers, Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, will discuss the Center and some of the impacts from research projects funded by the Center, as well as its current activities. The research funded by the Center focuses on nutrient export from agricultural lands and the performance of conservation practices. This research is important for improving our understanding of the performance of nutrient reduction practices and development of new methods for reducing nutrient loss. “The Center is interested in hearing from stakeholders what they think are the most pressing research questions,” said Helmers.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, January 15, 2020
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars and click the link to join the 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.

Hilary Pierce

20 Tips for Increasing Wildlife Habitat in Iowa Over the Next Decade

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We’re kicking off 2020 with the 50th episode of the Conservation Chat podcast! On this episode, host Jacqueline Comito challenged wildlife expert Dr. Adam Janke to come up with 20 things to do in the 2020s to increase wildlife habitat in Iowa. Janke is an assistant professor at Iowa State University and the Iowa State University Extension Wildlife Specialist. He is passionate about increasing wildlife populations in agricultural landscapes.

Janke’s Top 20 Tips:

20. Download iNaturalist or a similar app

19. Look for tracks in the snow

18. Learn to recognize 3 bird calls: the Dickcissel, Upland Sandpiper and Eastern Wood-Pewee

17. Learn to recognize rare wildlife

16. Learn your watershed address

15. Buy a duck stamp

14. Keep cats inside

13. Plant native plants

12. Be able to make a bouquet of flowers from your land from May 15 – Oct 1

11. Take the Master Conservationist Program

10. Volunteer and get involved

9. Sell the mower (or at least downsize)

8. Take kids to your favorite natural area often and talk to them about why its so important

7. Read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

6. Find opportunity areas of wildlife on your farm or land (check on Janke’s Iowa Learning Farms webinar to learn more!)

5.  Redefine your relationship to “weeds”

4. Read (or reread) A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

3. Run a “clean farm”, but broaden the definition of that to include protecting soil, making sure clean water is leaving your property, and supporting biodiversity and wildlife on the margins of productive land

2. Tell your story about why land stewardship matters to you

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Janke’s #1 tip is to embrace diversity in all of its forms: economically, biologically and socially. Doing so will allow for increased resiliency and will have wildlife benefits, as well as other benefits to soil health and water quality across our agricultural landscape. “We need diversity of thought and we need diversity of ideas to solve some of these really big challenges that we have, in terms of sustaining our land base, sustaining our rural communities and sustaining this enterprise that we all really value.” – Janke

To learn more about Janke’s tips for increasing wildlife habitat in Iowa over the next decade, listen to the full episode here or on iTunes!

Hilary Pierce

Farmland wildlife making a comeback

How do we maintain productive, profitable farms in Iowa that protect soil resources, support biodiversity, and send cleaner water downstream?  Tune in to the December Iowa Learning Farms webinar to learn more about these challenges and opportunities from Dr. Adam Janke. Janke serves as Assistant Professor in Natural Resources Ecology and Management and Extension Wildlife Specialist at Iowa State University.

Many wildlife species in Iowa have exhibited consistent population declines over recent decades. However, contrary to popular belief, these population declines are not due to the expansion of agricultural land. Farmed acres in Iowa have actually declined when compared to the 1930s.

However, what has changed dramatically is the intensification and homogenization of agricultural production. Comparing the 1930s to now, the diversity of cropping systems has dramatically decreased, hedgerows and weedy areas have all but disappeared, and there has been a clear trend towards uniformity on the landscape. Put simply, all of this points to fewer places for wildlife to live.
While much recent attention has been focused on water quality-related conservation practices that align with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Janke emphasizes that many of these conservation practices also offer great benefits to farmland wildlife.

Janke points out, “Changes in land use intended to address water quality can also address wildlife concerns in Iowa’s Wildlife Action Plan.” (Did you know that Iowa has over 400 species identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need?!)
In order for farmland wildlife to thrive, Janke emphasizes three big needs:

  • Native diversity: Wildlife favor native plants over non-natives, and there is a particular benefit to having diverse vegetation providing food resources over the course of the season.
  • Natural features: Natural features like herbaceous vegetation and shallow, pooled water provide important food resources and habitat for wildlife.
  • Size/connectivity: In order to make meaningful gains, wildlife need adjacent or near-adjacent, connected parcels of land that provide quality habitat.

Riparian buffers, wetlands, and strategic integration of prairie into row crop productions can make a huge difference for wildlife!  Watch the full webinar here to learn more about studies that Janke and colleagues have conducted tracking farmland wildlife here in Iowa, along with additional insight into the relationships and synergies between water, soil, and wildlife stewardship.

Ann Staudt

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P.S. Stay tuned for further information about next month’s Iowa Learning Farms webinar (date TBA).  We look forward to kicking things off with a joint webinar-podcast featuring a conversation with Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

 

Saving Time (and money) with Conservation

ILFHeader(15-year)On this month’s episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito catches up with Ben and Andy Johnson, cover crop farmers in the Conservation Learning Labs(CLL) project in Floyd County. Ben was previously featured on the chat in 2017 as the CLL was completing the first year. Now three years in, they are pleased with benefits of cover crops in their no-till and strip-till system and plan to continue using them on as many acres as they can get seeded.

Ben and AndyThe Johnsons farm together raising corn and soybeans and managing a ewe and feeder lamb herd. With time as a limiting factor, they started using no-till 15 years ago and began strip-tilling their corn acres for over ten years. They have noticed significant changes in increased infiltration of heavy rains and reduced soil erosion, compared to neighbors who use more intensive tillage practices.

“We’re more competitive because of the conservation. There are a lot of farmers in our area that were attending meetings last year on ‘You didn’t get your tillage done, what are you going to do?’. We were planting as guys were trying to do tillage this spring,” stated Johnson. “We started planing on Easter this year (around April 21st). Our fields were fit then and we started planting corn and soybeans – even with our limited manpower because we’re not running a field cultivator.”

In addition to soil and water quality benefits, the labor and time savings make the Johnsons true supporters of no-till and strip-till.

“If it didn’t work, I wouldn’t do it. I’m just like everyone else. If I thought I could plow that field and have 20 bushels more corn, that’s probably what I would be doing,” noted Ben.

When asked what was meant by working, Andy responded “If I can save on time and labor and still have the same yields or better. I would rather be with my kids than pulling an implement through the field.”

Be sure to listen the rest of the chat to hear how about the other benefits they are experiencing and learn more about the CLL project.

Find the Conservation Chat on iTunes and subscribe today!

Liz Juchems 

It’s time to change, again

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Mark Licht | Assistant Professor of Agronomy and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, Iowa State University

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been involved in several conversations regarding the need for change. Change is hard. It doesn’t matter what the profession. Change brings about anxiety and discontent. We do not like change forced upon us. But, we do accept change when it meets our current wants and needs. Sometimes change can be incremental, and sometimes it can be abrupt.

Since humans first began domesticating plants, agriculture has experienced incremental change. Most of the change focused on agricultural intensification – increasing agricultural production per unit of input. These inputs included labor, land, time, fertilizer, seed and pesticides to name just a few. Mechanization in labor from humans, to horses and oxen, to tractors has allowed greater productivity which led to expansion of land in agricultural production.

Throughout the last 150 years, incremental change has begun to happen more rapidly. Think of how corn production moved from open pollinated, to hybrid, to transgenic cultivars. Iowa led the nation in the adoption of both hybrid and transgenic cultivars. For centuries, fertility needs have been met with animal manure.  We shifted to commercial fertilizers in the mid-1900s and the necessity for livestock in individual production systems was eliminated. Over the last 25 years, precision agriculture advancements have yet again created efficiencies of labor, time and use of chemical inputs (or fertilizers and pesticides). Agricultural intensification has only been possible through change.

Just like changes throughout these 150 years brought greater production and ability to feed more people, we are at another formative point in advancing agricultural systems. Our systems need to be conservation focused. The time to adopt cover crops, conservation tillage, CREP wetlands, saturated buffers, bioreactors, and diverse rotations is now.

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What makes this change especially difficult, is the time-frame to change and the pressures weighing on farmers from many directions. Consumers are demanding sustainable practices. Our neighbors in Iowa and beyond are demanding cleaner water and healthier soil. We need to change more abruptly than we would like to sustainably supply the needs of the world’s population now and for many generations.

As I talk to farmers about why they do not make incremental changes towards the adoption of conservation practices, I frequently hear “this is the way we have always done it,” or “I am nearing the end of my career, I will let the next generation make the change.”

These are excuses. We have to be able to see past our own lifetimes. As we look back on the lives of our parents and grandparents, we can see this isn’t the way we have always done it. More importantly, we can’t wait for the next generation to be in charge to change. What about two or three generations to come? Can we think in a longer scope? What will they say when they look back to this time?

Iowa has phenomenal farmers who have been champions for conservation. I am quite confident these farmers see change as an opportunity. Many of these champions have or will be transitioning the farming operation to the next generation. They have made incremental changes to adopt and perfect conservation practices over the course of many years. Often, they are still looking for ways to improve.

Crop production systems need to be changed to provide soil health and nutrient reduction benefits. We need to work together to find the right practices for each farm and each field. Iowa agriculture is in a unique position to lessen the impact of agricultural intensification.

Change is inevitable. To continue with our current systems, is not an option. Let’s continue to innovate together – as Iowa farmers always have. Let’s commit to making the sustainable changes needed while those changes are voluntary and can be made on an individualized basis.

Mark Licht

 

Getting Conservation in the Hands of Local Citizens

Our newest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast, A Passion for Prairies, features Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s David Stein. He is truly passionate about helping people learn more about their local ecology through on-the-ground outreach across central Iowa. Enthusiastic may be an understatement when it comes to Stein’s zeal and motivation to provide a personal, education-minded, place-based approach to conservation on working lands!

As a Watershed Program Coordinator with the non-profit (former RC&D) Prairie Rivers of Iowa, Stein holds a unique position in that the area he serves here in the heart of Iowa is at the direct interface of urban areas and prime agricultural land. That presents both unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to water quality, soil health, and facilitating corridors of habitat for wildlife.

Stein is particularly passionate about native prairie establishment, and its benefits to reduce runoff, improve water quality, build soil health, and provide habitat/food resources to many species of wildlife. Tune in to the Conservation Chat to hear about Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s targeted efforts to establish corridors of habitat, creating uninterrupted flyways between publicly-owned and privately-owned lands.

Photographs by Prairie Rivers of Iowa

Interested in doing some native landscaping, establishing a pollinator garden, or other native plantings on your land?  Look no farther that Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s Native Plant Seed Bank! Tune in to the podcast to learn more about this awesome new initiative, the brainchild of Stein (and his proudest accomplishment on the job thus far). The seed bank is currently offering 10 different species of native plants (flowers and grasses), and they are accepting deposits of native seed, as well—an incredible conservation resource for central Iowa.

Catch this episode and all previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and through iTunes.

Ann Staudt