Iowa’s Water Quality Challenge

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about the efforts and progress being made toward reducing agricultural losses of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, explained:

  1. How does nutrient loss occur in Iowa agriculture?
  2. Which practices reduce nutrient loss?
  3. Are these practices being adopted?

Nowatzke explained that agricultural losses of nitrogen and phosphorus mainly occur in two different ways: soil and phosphorus loss through erosion from surface runoff and loss of nitrate-nitrogen and some dissolved phosphorus through subsurface drainage. In-field and edge-of-field practices have been designed and are being adopted by farmers and landowners to reduce these losses.

These practices can be used to meet the nutrient reduction goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The Strategy lays out several different scenarios in which the goals can be reached through different combinations of practices and the necessary adoption rate for each scenario. One of these scenarios is shown in the figure below, with the current estimated adoption rate also shown.

More widespread adoption of these practices (in this combination of practices or in the other scenarios) will be needed to reach the nutrient reduction goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Nowatzke shared the following resources for more information:

More information about the progress toward Iowa’s water quality goals can be found in the forthcoming 2018-19 Annual Progress Report of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Last year’s report can be found here.

Watch the full webinar here!

Be sure to join us next week, on May 6, when  Ross Evelsizer, Watershed Planner & GIS Specialist at Northeast Iowa RC&D, will present a webinar titled: “Multi-Cropping as a Profitable Soil Health Solution“.

Hilary Pierce

Tips for Adding Cover Crops to Your Farm

Today’s post focuses another in-field conservation practices covered in the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual and the great decisions trees related to cover crops!

Hands holding a clump of soil with green rye growing over a shovel

Cover crops are plant species, such as oats and cereal rye, planted to reduce soil erosion, improve soil health, and provide water quality benefits during the months of the year when crops are not actively growing on farmland. Incorporating cover crops improves soil health by:

  • Improving soil structure
  • Reducing soil compaction
  • Protecting the soil surface

Cover crops are seeded in the fall, either before or after harvest. They are not harvested as grains, but can be grazed or harvested as forage. Cover crops go hand-in-hand with no-tillage and strip-tillage.

6 Tips to Success for Starting Out with Cover Crops:

  • Oats ahead of corn
  • Cereal rye ahead of soybean
  • Selecting the seeding method that fits your system (see decision trees below)
  • Terminate 10-14 days ahead of corn and 3-7 days ahead of soybeans
  • Spring tillage of cover crops is NOT recommended
  • Adjust planter settings to higher residue system

The manual provides more detailed information on each of these tips and more, so download a FREE copy for your farm today.

Also be sure to check out our YouTube video series Cover Crops: Farmer Perspectives and Adding a Cover Crop to a Corn-Soybean System, as well as our recent webinar – Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020​​​​​​​ and virtual field days for more great information.

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

Farming for the Future With Wade Dooley – Virtual Field Day April 24 1pm CDT

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and Conservation Learning Group, is hosting a free virtual field day on Friday, April 24th at 1pm CDT.

The event will include video footage from the field and live interaction with Marshall County farmer Wade Dooley as he shows changes he is making within the family farming operation to adjust to changing markets and climate.

Dooley is truly farming for the future, with an emphasis on making his family farm resilient in the changing climate and finding systems that allow him to learn, adapt and get excited to try again next year. For Dooley this means making big changes: moving away from row crops to CRP acres, raising cover crops for seed, extending his rotations and growing a grass-fed cow-calf operation.

“It is important to find a system that allows you to do what you enjoy, but that will also be a successful and profitable business,” noted Dooley. “One of my main goals is to grow food – vegetables, fruit and meat – in order to feed our neighbors here in Iowa.”

Make plans to join us and chat with Wade on how he’s making these changes with his family on their farm and how you can implement similar practices in your own system.

To participate in the live field day, shortly before 1:00 pm CDT on April 24, click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/s/315189792

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

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

    Meeting ID: 315 189 792

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

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 field day.

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

April 16 Virtual Field Day: Managing Cereal Rye Ahead Of Corn

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and Conservation Learning Group, is launching a new virtual free cover crop field day on Thursday, April 16th at 1pm CST that will include video footage from the field. The event will allow for live interaction with Mark Licht, Iowa State University Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, and Alison Robertson, Iowa State University Plant Pathology and Microbiology Professor and Extension Field Pathologist as they show their current cover crop research projects.

Cover crops continue to grow in popularity due to their many benefits including soil erosion reductions, weed suppression potential, reduced nitrogen and phosphorus loads entering water bodies, and increased soil organic matter. Cereal rye is the most commonly used cover crop species in Iowa and many other Midwestern states. Proper management of cereal rye ahead of corn is key to optimizing conservation and crop production goals.

Licht and Robertson will discuss two research projects that began fall 2018 and are funded the Iowa Nutrient Research Center. Together they are exploring nitrogen rates, pest and pathogen management, seeding rates, termination dates and the best tillage management system for managing cereal rye ahead of corn.

Research Plots Spring 2020. Photo Credit: Mark Licht

“One of questions we are looking to answer is how can we reduce the cost of cover crops through reduced seeding rates and still meet soil health and water quality conservation goals, while simultaneously adjusting termination timing and seeding method to meet corn production goals. We are aiming to find the balance,” stated Licht. “In the second project, we are looking at no-tillage and strip-tillage systems with different starter nitrogen rates to manage corn for optimal growth following cereal rye.”

To participate in the live field day, shortly before 1:00 pm CST on April 16:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser: https://iastate.zoom.us/s/315189792

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

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

    Meeting ID: 315 189 792

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

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 field day.

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020

On Wednesday Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about cover crops and no-till, with advice for operators who are using or interested in using these practices.

Liz Ripley, Conservation & Cover Crop Outreach Specialist, began by discussing cover crops and the data on their use collected by ILF through their field day participants. While the number of acres with cover crops has grown over recent years in Iowa, more adoption of the practice will be needed to meet the goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Ripley shared the results of a long term rye study and a study looking at the impacts of individual species and mixtures of species on water quality and crop yield. She also provided keys to success with cover crops:

Mark Licht, Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, then shared information about switching to no-till and the associated benefits. A study done at Iowa State University found that no-till had lower input costs and yielded higher economic return, when compared to conventional tillage. Mark’s tips for success when switching to no-till:

More information on these practices can also be found in the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual, available for free from the ISU Extension Store.

Watch the full webinar! We also have many other great archived webinars available here: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Join us next week, at noon on April 15, when Adam Janke will present: “Finding Mutual Opportunities for Soil, Water, and Wildlife by Redefining the Field Edge”.

Hilary Pierce

April 8 Webinar: Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, April 8 at noon. Due to the necessary postponement of our spring field days, this webinar will provide information on how to succeed with cover crops and no-till for spring 2020.

Liz Ripley, Conservation & Cover Crop Outreach Specialist, and Mark Licht, Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, will share results from a variety of cover crop projects. These projects include a 10-year cereal rye cover crop study, species selection information, water quality impacts, and tips for spring termination.

Cover crops continue to grow in popularity in Iowa due to their many benefits: reduced soil erosion, weed suppression potential, reduced nitrogen and phosphorus loads entering water bodies, and increased soil organic matter. “Fall 2019 was another difficult harvest season with limited time to complete fall tillage. Cover crops and no-tillage work together to help increase water infiltration and reduce erosion during heavy rain events,” said Ripley and Licht.

Don’t miss this webinar!

DATE: Wednesday, April 8, 2020

TIME: 12:00 pm

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: shortly before 12:00 pm on April 8th:

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

Science + Support = Sound Stewardship

Improving water quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat while remaining productive and profitable is the focus of many conservation efforts in Iowa. There has been extensive education and outreach programming to increase awareness of practices aimed at these goals and confidence in selection and management is essential for moving from awareness to implementation. However, recommendations have varied depending on the organization providing advice, leading to uncertainty among farmers and landowners.

In 2019, the Conservation Learning Group brought together leading scientists and technical specialists in Iowa for a series of four conservation systems summits to build consensus on the best management recommendations for farmers and landowners getting started with conservation and water quality practices.

The Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual is the final product of those summits—a one-stop shop intended to help select and incorporate the in-field and edge-of-field conservation practices most appropriate to the decision maker’s land and preferences.  The manual is available FREE from the ISU Extension Store and hard copies will be distributed to each county NRCS office for easy access.

Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting portions of the manual and providing links to great resources that are included.

First up – Conservation Practices at a Glance

This section provides a great visual guide to help farmers, landowners, agronomists and other technical advisors match up practices with their ability to address soil health, nutrient loss reduction and habitat resource concerns.  

Using the Chart

Example: My resource concern is soil health.

The practices that score highest for having a strong impact are cover crops and no-tillage and there is scientific consensus to back that up. Whereas if habitat was my main concern, those same practices have weak to no impact. This chart can help decision makers evaluate the different options and choose those that can meet their resource concern goals.

The remainder of the manual takes a closer look at these practices and provides recommendations that reduce risk and lead to success. Stay tuned!

Liz (Juchems) Ripley