Enhancing Monarch Butterfly Conservation in Iowa

Iowa Learning Farms hosted webinar on Wednesday, September 16 about monarch butterfly conservation efforts in Iowa. During the webinar, Steve Bradbury, professor in the Departments of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and Entomology at Iowa State University explained monarch life cycles, migration and population decline. Up to 50% of the population that overwinters in Mexico comes from the corn belt of the US, making it critical to conserve and establish additional monarch habitat in Iowa.

Although year-to-year variability of the the monarch population is to be expected, the overall trend is declining. The concerning decline has been caused by extreme weather, deforestation in Mexico (which has been stabilized), and habitat loss (milkweed and other nectar resources) in the upper Midwest. In order for the population to be sustainable and able to withstand extreme weather events, it needs to occupy six hectares of the forest in Mexico. In order to achieve this, 1.6 billion additional stems (of milkweed and nectar resources) need to be established in the upper Midwest.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium was formed in 2015 to determine Iowa’s part in the establishment of habitat in the upper Midwest. Significant habitat needs to be established in Iowa and the conservation strategy for Iowa breaks out how many acres of habitat need to be established and opportunities to do so without taking acres out of crop production. Grass dominated sites are areas where there is opportunity to establish monarch/pollinator habitat and research is being done on the best way to transform these sites. Bradbury shared lessons learned from the demonstration sites during the webinar.

To learn more about monarchs and monarch conservation efforts in Iowa, watch the full webinar here!

Join us on Wednesday, September 23, for a webinar titled “Iowa Flood Center Floodplain Mapping Programs” presented by Witold (Witek) Krajewski, Director of the Iowa Flood Center.

Hilary Pierce

Virtual Field Day September 24: Manure Application Considerations During Dry Soil Conditions

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day focused on best management practices for applying manure in dry soil conditions on Thursday, September 24th at 1 p.m. CDT. Join us for a live conversation with Brian Dougherty, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Field Agricultural Engineer.

Maximizing the nutrient availability and retention of applied manure for the upcoming crops begins with proper handling and application to the land. During dry conditions, it is even more important as those nutrients are especially vulnerable to being flushed from the system during future rain events. Dougherty led a study at the ISU Northeast Research near Nashua to examine the effect of manure application timing and cover crops on yields and drainage water quality. During the virtual event Dougherty will be share results from that project and similar projects, as well as provide best management practices for applying manure for the upcoming crop year.

“This field day will give producers some tips on planning ahead for fall manure applications. We will discuss some challenges specific to applying manure in very dry conditions as well as the benefits of using manure and cover crops together as an integrated system for improving utilization of manure nutrients,” noted Dougherty.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on September 24th, click HERE or visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events and click “Join Live Virtual Field Day”.

 Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 914 1198 4892

The field day will be recorded and archived on the ILF website so that it can be watched at any time. The archive will be available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU). Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.

Liz Ripley

September 16 Webinar: Enhancing Monarch Butterfly Conservation in Iowa

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, September 16 at noon about monarch butterfly conservation efforts in Iowa.    

Steve Bradbury, professor in the Departments of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and Entomology at Iowa State University will provide an overview of monarch butterfly declines over the past two decades, causes of the declines and Iowa’s goal of establishing between 215,000 to 390,000 new acres of monarch habitat in agricultural landscapes over the next decade. Bradbury will also offer approaches for establishing habitat in grass dominated sites, including opportunities to establish habitat in conjunction with the installation of saturated buffers and bioreactors.

“We can grow corn, soybeans, monarchs and improve water quality by stacking conservation and pest management practices,” said Bradbury, whose research and extension efforts address conservation, pest resistance management, and environmental risks and benefits of pesticide use. “Iowa’s monarch conservation and nutrient reduction goals are challenging; however, by integrating practices we can maximize our return on investment.”

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on September 16:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

    Or, go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172 

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been applied for, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Beauty of Conservation Award Winners

There was an amazing response to our Beauty of Conservation photo contest. We had over 130 photos from 56 photographers from all over Iowa and beyond.

Mary Swalla Holmes, a writer and photographer from Polk City, Iowa, contributed her professional expertise to the panel of judges. She commented that she was honored to be a part of the program, and noted, “There were so many wonderful images submitted, in both the adult and youth categories, capturing a wide range of conservation practices, that it was difficult to narrow it down to a few winners. Really we all win when we see the beauty in conservation, in a field, in a stream or in a wildflower. The images reflected the relationships between humans, wildlife and the land in very artistic ways. Thanks to Iowa Learning Farms for this opportunity to see and share the beauty of conservation.”

Below are the top photos in both the youth and adult divisions. All photos entered in the contest can be viewed on the ILF Facebook page by following these links: Adult Category Entries and Youth Category Entries.

Liz Ripley

A Resource for Successful Adoption of Conservation Practices

Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar on Wednesday, June 17 about the “Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual”.   

The “Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual” brought together many experts to develop a resource that will aid the successful adoption of cover crops, no-/strip-tillage, diverse rotations, and edge-of-field practices. The manual is designed to be a useful tool for farmers and crop advisers. It includes decision tools that will guide operators, landowners and/or conservation professionals through the decision-making process for adopting and implementing conservation practices. 

Mark Licht, Assistant Professor and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist at Iowa State University, discussed the manual and used two scenarios to show how the manual could be used to help guide decision-making around the adoption of conservation practices.

One of the scenarios shown in the webinar

To show how the manual could be used to help farmer Smith decide what tillage management practice would work on her farm, Licht showed the residue management decision tool, which provides guidance based on what crop rotation is used. He also highlighted the additional considerations that can be found in the manual and the information available for the best management of these conservation practices.

The decision tool that could be used to guide farmer Smith’s decision

Licht also shared a scenario about cover crop adoption and discussed the diverse rotation tool, as well as the edge-of-field practices that the manual covers. To learn more, watch the full webinar here!

The full manual is available as a free download from the ISU Extension Store, or our website.

Join us on Wednesday at noon when William Crumpton, Professor at Iowa State University, will present a webinar titled, “Environmental Performance of Wetlands Receiving Non-Point Source Nutrient Loads: Benefits and Limitations of Targeted Wetland Restorations”.

Hilary Pierce

The Four Corners of Iowa

The first guest post in our Water Resources Internship blog series this summer was written by Emma Bruck. She will be a junior next fall with a major in Global Resource Systems and a minor in Sustainability at Iowa State. Raised in Johnston, Iowa, Bruck started working with corn and soybeans at the age of 14.

Due to changes in the recent months, I have had the opportunity to visit county parks around the state for outreach purposes. Together with my fellow interns, we have created conservation focused activities for school age children to enjoy while visiting some of the beautiful nature found in Iowa. The county parks I’ve been able to visit have been all over the state, such as the Loess Hills in Western Iowa to rolling hills in the Northeastern corner of Iowa. This project has taken me to new areas of Iowa and has opened my eyes to the diverse beauty that Iowa offers.

The park that sticks out the most was Whitewater Canyon Wildlife Area located where Jones, Dubuque and Jackson meet. It’s one of three true canyons in the state of Iowa with the rock of the canyon dating back 450 million years. The park is home to a canyon with 13 caves, prairie and rare wildlife. It was by far the most unique county park I’ve visited in Iowa. This park allowed me to explore my creativity while making activities for all kids to enjoy. The diverse landscape let me design activities that are distinctive to Whitewater Canyon. Some of the activities include a cave count and water quality jar activity and are geared toward grades 1st-8th.

Creating county park activities has shown me how creative I can be when put into a new situation! I’m so thankful I’ve been so lucky to explore all four corners of Iowa while visiting wonderful county parks!

Later this year you will be able to visit the Water Rocks! website to see the brochures made for county parks near you or road trip to one that looks interesting! Use the activities to guide you through the park to make sure you don’t miss any of the sites. Don’t forget to take pictures of your adventures, post them on social media and tag us @WaterRocksISU, we want to see!

-Emma Bruck

June 17 Webinar: A Resource for Successful Adoption of Conservation Practices

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, June 17 at noon about the “Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual”.   

The “Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual” brought together many experts with the sole purpose of developing best management practices for the successful adoption of cover crops, no-/strip-tillage, diverse rotations, and edge-of-field practices.

This manual is designed to be a useful tool for farmers and crop advisers. It includes decision tools that will guide operators, landowners and/or conservation professionals through the decision-making process for adopting and implementing conservation practices. Mark Licht, Assistant Professor and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist at Iowa State University, will discuss the manual and how it can be used to guide adoption of conservation practices.

“It is my intention that participants will gain an understanding of what is included in the manual, but also how to use the manual to increase and improve that adoption rate of conservation practices,” said Licht, whose research an extension program are focused on corn and soybean management practices, particularly developing practices for the successful adoption of cover crops.  

The full manual is available as a free download from the ISU Extension Store, or our website https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/. We will welcome your ideas and feedback on the manual during the webinar, so we hope that you download the manual before the webinar.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on June 17:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/j/364284172

    Or, go to https://iastate.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 364 284 172 

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 364 284 172

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU) has been approved for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Beauty of Conservation Photo Contest Kicks off June 22

Iowa Learning Farms announces its Beauty of Conservation Photo Contest, scheduled to run from June 22 to July 6. The contest is open to amateur photographers, including youth and 18+ entry groups, with a variety of fun prizes awarded in each group.

“The beauty of conservation is certainly in the eye of the beholder, and we are eager to see what people across Iowa and beyond see when they think about conservation and conservation practices being employed on farms,” said Jacqueline Comito, ILF director. “We encourage entries showing the mechanics of successful practices such as wetlands, cover crops, bioreactors, prairie strips and more. We also hope to see the results of conservation efforts depicted in photos of diverse wildlife populations, healthy natural forests and prairies, and clean waterways.”

Beauty of Conservation Photo Contest Details:

  1. Open to all amateur photographers in Iowa and beyond (Youth and 18+ entry groups)
  2. Up to three submissions per entrant allowed
  3. Suggested image subjects:
    1. In-field practices, edge-of-field practices
    2. Farming with conservation practices
    3. Livestock, people, pets
    4. Show the beauty that conservation brings
    5. Show us what you are doing to help encourage others to do the same
  4. High-resolution images preferred – Please do not compress if taken on a smartphone
    1. Acceptable file formats for entries – .jpg, .png, .svg
  5. Email submissions to ilf@iastate.edu (Submission closes at 11:59 p.m. CDT July 6, 2020)
    1. Provide a title or subject of the photo
    2. Indicate if photographer is youth or adult
    3. Include name and contact information
  6. Entrant retains all rights to the image except for use by ILF. Submission gives ILF permission to post to social media and use with creator credit in future publications.
  7. Prize-winning entries will be selected by an ILF judging panel based on aesthetic qualities and depiction of conservation beauty.
    1. Best-of-Show prize for 18+ Group: gift card valued at $150.00.
    2. Best-of-Show Prize for Youth Group: gift card valued at $75.00.
    3. Additional prizes may be awarded at the discretion of the judges.
  8. ILF will share entries on its Facebook and Twitter streams
  9. People’s Choice voting will be conducted after the close of entries through Facebook and Twitter

This contest is one program ILF is launching to augment its outreach efforts during restricted face-to-face engagements related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is committed to continuing to meet the needs of farmers and conservationists, which have not abated, operating under a new set of rules.

“We view this contest as an opportunity to see the impact of ILF outreach and education through the eyes and lenses of constituent groups we’ve reached,” continued Comito. “It should be fun to see the creativity contestants apply to capturing conservation in action.”

Liz Ripley

Ecology’s Lesson for Us All On the Importance of Diversity

In my world, “diversity” often comes with a prefix. I remember learning the word early in my college days, having come to the wildlife ecology discipline not as a woke environmentalist but rather because of an obsession with ducks from a childhood spent hunting them. “Biodiversity” wasn’t exactly something we talked about in the duck blind. But in those classes, and in the field where we were taught to make careful observations, and in the lab where we crafted experiments and did complicated statistics to control for variability, I learned to see the impacts of diversity in the natural world. Communities that have it are strong and resilient. Those that don’t are fragile and prone to collapse.

It’s perhaps best observed in places where it’s obviously lacking. Forests with ground floors carpeted by invasive plants like bush honeysuckle come undone at the seams. Native plants that support the cadre of insects that feed the wildlife can’t find a place to live. Changes in food sources causes the cardinal to look less cardinal. The trees overhead send their progeny to the ground but they can’t find a place to grow. When they do, they’re eaten by the deer that don’t care for the honeysuckle and are quick to eat any alternative. In the end, the whole system changes and becomes less diverse. Less colorful. Less noisy and less alive. It’s a monoculture. And monocultures fail.

A loess hills prairie in bloom
Many natural ecosystems in Iowa, like this Loess Hills prairie, hold the secret to a healthy community: diversity.

In our classes we learned diversity is central to ecology. So central in fact, that it underlies the most important theory in the discipline, the theory of natural selection. As Darwin predicted years before the discovery of DNA and the genes it encodes, diversity in the genome of a species ensures its survival. Encounter a problem for which there isn’t a gene, and it’s all over.

Other examples of the importance of diversity in the stability and resiliency of natural communities and organisms are everywhere. Trust me, I passed the tests.  

It was only recently however that I started to notice that lessons from ecologists’ texts hold meaning beyond the ecosystems we study. I don’t know exactly why it took me so long to connect this thread. It could be that with my final test now years behind me I find myself more interested in philosophy than phylogeny. It could be the tendency towards compartmentalized black-and-white thinking of youth wearing off. It could be that roughly coincident with my taking that last test I started to embrace what made me, as a gay man, different in a world that tries to make everyone “fit in.”

I suppose it doesn’t much matter what triggered my recent divestiture from rote memorization in favor of admiring problems more wholly. What matters is that it’s clear the threat of monocultures extends far beyond the ecosystems I was trained to study and I think ecologists have an important role to play in breaking those down. Just as the carpet of honeysuckle in the forest prevents the growth of next spring’s wildflowers, the monocultures of people and monocultures of thought that prevail in so many corners of society today stifle the creative thinking we need for the future.

Photo of forest with quote, "Diverse experiences create diverse voices. Diverse voices yield diverse ideas. Diverse ideas solve challenges."

Climate change is at our door step thanks mainly to decades of leaning solely on fuels locked up deep below the earth’s surface. Homogenization and specialization in agriculture leaves the system prone to disruption from decisions made a continent or ocean away, while some Iowan’s starve on the most productive soils in the world. The erasure of wetlands and grasslands and forests on land unfit for commodity production or the “taming” of rivers and streams with ditch and dredge sends water unclean and en masse downriver for other, often socioeconomically depressed, communities to clean up or absorb its floods.

It’s clear the answer to these challenges were in my textbooks all along. In order to mount the defense we need against the challenges we face today we must embrace all forms of diversity. We need diversity in cropping practices. Diversity in markets. Diversity in supply chains. Diversity in plants and animals and ecosystems. Diversity in conservation practices. And most importantly, diversity in voices at the table to create, and innovate, and experiment, and lead with the best ideas. Diverse experiences among people create diverse voices. Diverse voices yield diverse ideas. Diverse ideas solve challenges and lift others up.

Just as a young ecologist I learned how Darwin’s natural selection works only because of the rich diversity of genes represented in every living things’ genome, we must today see that humans solve problems only through the ingenuity expressed in the genome of minds held collectively among the people present to solve them.

In these times of tension in our country and our communities, I find myself wondering, what good is it to know that a bird uses the stars to migrate north in the spring, if an African American bird watcher in Central Park can’t enjoy the company of that bird without harassment?

I’m hopeful that more ecologists, and engineers, and agronomists, and economists, and farmers, and community leaders, and more will evolve their thinking on the threads that connect these challenges as well. We all have work to do to break down barriers that exclude the diverse minds we need to solve the challenges we face. And those that look like me – a privileged white man – have got a little extra work to do. But, as we do, I’m enthusiastic that the lessons on diversity that we can so clearly see play out in nature without bias or prejudice can work in the same way in communities of people across our state and nation to solve the challenges of the 21st century. 

Adam Janke

A Paired Watershed Study of the Impact of Stacked BMPs on Water Quality

Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar on Wednesday about the results of a long-term catchment-scale monitoring project in the Black Hawk Lake watershed. Michelle Soupir, Associate Professor at Iowa State University, shared the results from the project, which has collected flow and water quality data from paired catchments. One of the catchments has a higher level of best management practice (BMP) implementation than the other catchment.

Information about Subwatershed 11, the “low BMP” catchment

The paired catchments, or subwatersheds, were Subwatersheds 11 and 12 within the greater Black Hawk Lake watershed. The catchments have similar site characteristics and flow patterns. Subwatershed 11 has a fewer BMPs, while Subwatershed 12 has a higher rate of BMP implementation. Both catchments were monitored at their outlets.

Information about Subwatershed 12, the “high BMP” catchment

Water quality monitoring results showed that export of nitrate+nitrite, total phosphorus and total suspended solids was lower from Subwatershed 12, when compared to Subwatershed 11. However, the export of dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) was higher from Subwatershed 12. This could be due to an area of perennial vegetation near the outlet of the catchment, which traps sediment and may allow for the release of DRP during storm events. The higher amount of DRP export from this watershed could also be due to differences in manure and commercial fertilizer application between the two catchments.

To learn more about the results of this long-term monitoring project, watch the full webinar here!

Please join us on Wednesday, June 10 at 12:00 pm CDT for a webinar titled “Making Nutrient Reducing Prairie Strips More Predictably Successful, Multi-Functional, and Cost Effective” presented by Justin Meissen, Research and Restoration Manager at the Tallgrass Prairie Center.

Hilary Pierce