Finding the Right Fit for Soil Health Practices

Our webinar on Wednesday featured Dr. Abbey Wick, North Dakota State University soil health specialist and associate professor, who shared soil health approaches farmers have used in the northern plains and how they’ve tweaked those approaches to achieve their goals.

Wick explained the importance of creating the right mindset to try out new soil health practices and being willing to adjust the approach in order to meet the on-farm goals. She shared the experiences of farmers who she has worked with, both what practices they’ve tried, and also the lessons that they’ve learned. Some of the lessons learned that were highlighted were:

  • Pick your goal
  • Ask questions
  • Treat cover crop like a cash crop
  • Cover crop by soil texture
  • Find out why something worked or didn’t work
  • Try things out on your worst acres
  • Simple is okay
  • Share what you’re learning with others and get their input

Wick explained these lessons learned, along with many other during the webinar. She also shared some positives results of soil health practices that farmers are seeing, such as improved water management during wet spring and fall periods and noticeable soil health improvements in clay soils.

To learn more about finding the right fit for soil health practices, watch the full webinar here!

Join us next week, on Wednesday November 18 at noon, for a webinar with John McMaine, assistant professor and water management engineer extension state specialist at South Dakota State University, titled “Don’t Run off!—Managing Stormwater in the Urban Landscape.”

Hilary Pierce

Trees, Forests, and Forestry: Benefits to Water Quality and On-Farm Income in Iowa

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about forestry in Iowa and the importance of including trees in Iowa’s water quality conversation.

Billy Beck, Assistant Professor and Extension Forestry Specialist at Iowa State University, discussed the importance of seeing trees as a valuable resource, for farmers and landowners where they can be an asset and a source of on-farm income and provide profit, and for all Iowans because of the benefits to water quality and flood reduction that trees can provide.

Iowa has:

  • ~3 million acres of forest
  • 150,000 forest landowners
  • $10-35 million of standing timber sold annually
  • 30,000 jobs supported by forestry/forest products
  • $43 billion economic output from forestry/forest products
  • Highest quality white oak & black walnut on Earth (arguably)
  • ISU has one of the oldest forestry programs in the US
  • >30% of riparian corridors are forested

Beck explained that trees can improve water quality and can reduce water quantity reaching streams during rainfall events, which can positively impact flooding. Trees can take up nutrients, slow water through interception and infiltration, and can help stabilize streambanks, which all have positive impacts on downstream water quality and water quantity.

When discussing on-farm income from trees, Beck stated that it is important to know the true value of your timber, which can be very difficult to know! There isn’t a readily available source to find out this information and it could depend on: buyer/logger outlets, species assemblage, quality/grade of logs, site access or terrain, markets, politics, tariffs, etc.

To learn more about trees and forestry in Iowa, and its benefits to on-farm income and water quality and quantity, watch the full webinar here!

Be sure to join us next week on Wednesday, April 29th, when Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, will discuss “Iowa’s Water Quality Challenge: Efforts and Progress in Reducing Agricultural Nitrogen and Phosphorus Loss”.

Hilary Pierce

April 22 Webinar: Trees, Forests, and Forestry: Benefits to Water Quality and On-Farm Income in Iowa

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, April 22 at noon about the importance of including trees in Iowa’s water quality conversation.

Billy Beck, Assistant Professor and Extension Forestry Specialist at Iowa State University, will discuss the benefits that trees, forests, and forestry provide for both water quality and on-farm income, as well as resources and techniques landowners may utilize to achieve successful on-the-ground projects.

“Trees represent powerful resources that are often underutilized and undervalued by agricultural landowners,” said Beck, whose research and extension programming focuses on the impacts that trees, woodlands, and forests have on water quality and quantity in the Midwest.

This webinar will also present results from the recent “Forests and Water Quality Summit”—including a vision for the role of forestry in Iowa’s water quality efforts.

Don’t miss this webinar!

DATE: Wednesday, April 22, 2020

TIME: 12:00 pm

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: shortly before 12:00 pm on April 22nd:

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 CEU (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

March 18 Webinar: Embracing the Call to Abundance: The Value of Environmental Service on Iowa Farms

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, March 18th at 12:00 p.m. with Matt Russell, Executive Director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light.

“The question isn’t: ‘Do you believe in climate change?’ The question is: ‘Do you believe in Iowa farmers?’” said Russell, a fifth generation Iowa farmer with 20 years of agricultural research and policy experience.

Russell will discuss the work he does with Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, which focuses on working with farmers to help them become leaders on climate action. Taking action to address climate change will benefit Iowa and Iowan farmers in other ways as well, because the practices that are needed to help solve climate change will also increase soil health, water quality and rural communities.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, March 18, 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

A Conservation Chat with Secretary Naig

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On Wednesday, Dr. Jacqueline Comito, Director of Iowa Learning Farms, sat down with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Naig, to discuss conservation, water quality and the Secretary’s vision for Iowa. Their conversation was broadcast as an Iowa Learning Farms webinar and will also be featured on an upcoming episode of Dr. Comito’s Conservation Chat podcast. During the webinar, attendees were able to submit questions for Secretary Naig through the webinar software.

Jackie & Sec Naig

Naig and Comito discussed the need to scale up conservation efforts in Iowa, including the importance of collaborating with both federal partners and the private sector. In order to scale up the efforts to meet the goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, both Naig and Comito stressed the importance of understanding what motivates people to adopt conservation practices. “I think some of the most effective outreach events are when you have farmers sharing their experiences,” said Naig.

Throughout the webinar, Secretary Naig also talked about his work with the Hypoxia Task Force, IWILL funding, the importance of profitability, and the need for both more research and more outreach. The conversation also touched on the importance of improving quality of life for rural Iowans and how investing across the whole state can help achieve that. The economics of developing conservation infrastructure across Iowa, and the diversification of income that will happen with increased conservation opportunities, could be a key component of revitalizing rural areas.

“I’m not trying to build the last wetland, I’m trying to build the next ten—and figure out how to do them faster and more efficiently than we did the last ten.” – Secretary Naig

Watch the full webinar here!

Secretary Naig will be present as a participant at six Iowa Learning Farms field days this  year—details are still being worked out, but you can find information about all of our upcoming events here!

And be sure to join us next month, on March 18, when Matt Russell, Executive Director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “Embracing the call to abundance, the value of environmental service on Iowa farms”.

Hilary Pierce

A Conservation Chat with Wade Dooley & Nathan Anderson

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The Conservation Chat podcast has a brand new episode out this week! Host Jacqueline Comito had a conversation with farmers Wade Dooley and Nathan Anderson, who are both working hard to increase the resiliency of their farms.

cover crops

The passion that these two young farmers feel about their land and their farming practices shines through in the conversation; with Anderson discussing the mission and vision statements that he and his wife have been working on for their farm, and Dooley talking about making big changes: moving away from row crops to CRP acres and a grass-fed cow-calf operation. Both men stressed the importance of finding a system that allows you to do what you enjoy, but that will also be a successful and profitable business.

cover crop cowsComito mentioned the upcoming Conservation Chat with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Naig, and asked Dooley and Anderson if they had any questions for the Secretary. They discussed both the importance of policy making it attractive for there to be more people farming in rural Iowa – stressing a need for more neighbors, rather than more acres to farm – and the importance of growing more than just corn and soybeans, but also growing vegetables, fruit and meat in order to feed our neighbors here in Iowa.

Dooley and Anderson are truly “farming for the future”, with an emphasis on making their farms resilient in the changing climate and finding systems that allow them to learn, adapt and get excited to try again next year. To learn more about the challenges and opportunities that they see on their farms and for rural Iowa, listen to the podcast here or on iTunes!

Be sure to join us at noon on February 5th when the Conservation Chat with Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig will air as a live webinar!

Hilary Pierce

December 18 Webinar: Back to By-products: Promises and opportunities for layering benefits of water-resource conservation to restore farmland wildlife in the Corn Belt

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Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, December 18 at 12:00 p.m. about opportunities for the restoration of farmland wildlife in Iowa.

SONY DSCFarmland wildlife, including many grassland breeding birds, butterflies, mammals, and other species were once considered by-products of diversified agricultural production practices in Iowa that included hay, pasture, small grains, and other crops. Today, fewer wildlife thrive in row cropped landscapes, but coupling wildlife habitat conservation with efforts to improve water and soil health offers promise for restoring farmland wildlife to rural Iowa. Adam Janke, Assistant Professor at Iowa State University, will explore these synergies and discuss the promise of using natural features and processes improve water quality and wildlife habitat on the same acres.

IMG_5177Janke, whose research seeks to understand how wildlife use agricultural landscapes to help stakeholders find opportunity areas for wildlife conservation in working landscapes, hopes that participants will learn to recognize opportunity areas for coupling wildlife habitat conservation with soil and water conservation practices. Janke states, “Coupling water quality conservation practices with wildlife conservation practices is a promising effort to achieve multifunctional rural landscapes that are good for people, water, wildlife, and land.”

A Certified Crop Adviser board approved continuing education unit (1 CEU: Soil & Water Management) is available for those who are able to watch the live webinar. Information for submitting your CCA/CPAg/CPSS/CPSC number to earn the credit will be provided at the end of the presentation.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, December 18, 2019
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

Faces of Conservation: Rick Juchems


This blog post is part of our ongoing Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors
to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.


RICK JUCHEMS
Conservationist and Farmer
Rick Juchems operates a family farm raising beans, corn, cover crops and hogs near Plainfield, Iowa. He has a long history with conservation practices and has been a cooperating farmer in Iowa Learning Farms programs and studies since the organization was formed in 2004. He is committed to running a successful agricultural enterprise while keeping a focus on conservation efforts that keep the productive soil in place and maintaining a better environment on the farm and downstream.

What was your involvement and role with ILF?
My first exposure to ILF occurred when they came to speak at a Conservation Districts of Iowa board meeting, seeking farmers to participate in some early studies. At the time, my farm was in a classical corn/soybean rotation and it made sense to see what I could learn and gain from participating in the studies. Since those early days, I’ve participated in multiple studies, hosted field days, and continued to both learn and share my knowledge.

What was the purpose of ILF during your involvement?
My purpose in participating with ILF was, and is, to learn how to improve the soil and production on my farm. I think a critical part of the ILF approach is that they want me and other farmers to help educate and influence each other.

Promoting this farmer-to-farmer interaction is probably the most important thing ILF has done to make headway on their mission of creating a culture of conservation in Iowa. It’s easy for a farmer to latch onto what has worked for them in the past, and sometimes it takes someone who’s facing the same challenges and situations to get them to consider doing something different.


How did you change the program, and how did it change you?
I have participated in the ILF Leadership Circle meetings and multiple surveys. ILF is hungry for information and they are always eager to hear my ideas and feedback. Maybe I’ve changed things from behind the scenes through this involvement.

ILF changed the way I look at my farm and the soil on it, and what I do to preserve and improve the soil. Conservation has always been important to me but working with ILF on things such as cover crops, I’ve seen the benefits to my soil structure indicated by better water infiltration and more night crawlers.

What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
Getting to meet and work with a great group of people from around the state. I regularly get to know new like-minded people concerned about conservation as well as people looking for information. I’ve really enjoyed speaking at events and field days and am frequently stopped by people who saw me speak looking for information and advice. I hope I am making a difference with a few people and contributing to building a more sustainable ecosystem in Iowa.


Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa?
From a business point of view, working to improve water quality is important because it means my soil is staying where it belongs – in the fields. This has been a very challenging year in Iowa with lots of rain and flooding at inopportune times. The resulting erosion of river and stream banks was bad, but for farms without cover crops to help hold the soil, the problems were much worse.

As Iowa continues to work on its Nutrient Reduction Strategy, farmers need to understand the potential ramifications. We must be proactive in changing practices to stay ahead of the plan, or we risk having regulatory mandates that will likely not be to our liking.

If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?
I’d like to see that the education programs from ILF and Water Rocks! have helped bring about a generational change in Iowans regarding water quality and conservation. I would like caring about the environment and understanding the responsibility each person, community, and farm has in maintaining water quality to be natural for every Iowan.

In closing…
ILF has taken the bull by the horns to get people involved and increase knowledge about conservation. The farmer-to-farmer outreach approach has been a critical and successful part of the program that should help it continue to flourish.


Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series:

August 21 Webinar: 15 Years of Iowa Learning Farms

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Tune in on Wednesday, August 21 at 12:00 p.m. when Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar about the evolution of Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) over the past 15 years and what new goals and challenges the future holds.

“ILF started with a simple idea: Building a Culture of Conservation in Iowa through helping farmers talk to other farmers about protecting Iowa’s soil and water,” said Dr. Jacqueline Comito, Iowa Learning Farms Program Director. “Through the years our tactics and tools have evolved, but the fundamental strategy of applying a multidisciplinary approach to increase adoption of conservation practices has led to increased practices and greater natural resource protection.” Comito will discuss ILF’s approach to outreach and education, and will also reference the “Building a Culture of Conservation – 2004-2019” 15-Year report, which was published in March 2019.

The 15-Year report highlights the program’s successes, growth and impacts, as well as some of the challenges faced and goals for the future. Some key findings from the report include that ILF farmer partners have expanded to included 88 farmers located in 51 Iowa counties, field days have grown from 5 to 32 annually and have engaged over 32,500 attendees, and cover crops were planted on more than 880,000 acres in 2018. These findings and more will be discussed during the webinar.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, August 21, 2019
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

Faces of Conservation: Jim Gillespie

This blog post is part of the Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.


JIM GILLESPIE
Director of the Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality for Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) – retired

What was your involvement and role with ILF?
I was very lucky to be able to contribute and participate from the beginning, back in 2004, when serving as Field Services Bureau Chief for IDALS. I regularly participated with the ILF leadership team in discussions and activities and helped forge strong ties with the IDALS management team. I learned quickly that ILF was a valuable resource for the State of Iowa that provided excellent information garnered from their close work with ag producers. The ILF approach and success melded well with the state’s goals and objectives.

What was the purpose of ILF during your involvement?
Since its inception, ILF has placed great emphasis on establishing and promoting the concept of farmers helping farmers and peers helping peers. The purpose was – and is – to get information into the hands and minds of producers. Farmers like to share information and experiences with each other and often give more credence and respect to what is learned from a peer than when the same information is presented as a research report. ILF has continued to innovate while maintaining its core approach to delivering information and services and promoting efforts to build a Culture of Conservation in and beyond Iowa.

How did you change the program, and how did it change you?
Working with ILF gave me an opportunity to get out of the office and work with farmers across the state. Connecting directly with farmers helped me to learn and better understand where they were coming from, what was important to them on business and personal levels and how programs might best serve their needs. I think this experience helped lead to better models and ways to promote successes while addressing concerns from the producer community. I’m not sure that I had as much of an impact on ILF as it had on me, but I would not trade the experiences for anything.


What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
Having the opportunity to watch and work with the ILF staff was always impressive and fun. Watching the precision of the team setting up and conducting field days never ceased to amaze. The dedication and commitment from every member of the ILF team shows through in the quality of the programming. They all saw the potential and wholeheartedly supported each other’s ideas to build and grow the program.

And, I loved working with the farmer partners. There was so much to learn from their passion for conservation and real world experiences – with successes and failures in real time.

Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa?
Growing up on a farm, I’ve always maintained a connection to farming and the land, including a 40-plus-year career in agriculture. I began my career as a Vocational Agriculture teacher and became engaged in conservation as a field representative for soil conservation and water quality. My experiences have helped me to see and understand the issues from the perspectives of landowners, farmers and conservationists.

We are blessed with some of the best land in the world. We currently have sufficient water and great soil to support agriculture and community needs. However, moving forward, if we can’t or don’t protect these resources, the future could be bleak.


If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?
I’d like to see much more diversification in agriculture. ILF could be of great service in moving toward this goal. Wouldn’t it be nice if farmers had the ability to diversify into other commodities [beyond corn and beans] that could fit into a rotation that would improve soil health and promote better water quality, but still make a viable business?

In closing…
ILF has given a breath of freshness to extension services. Their approach to engagement and education through partnering with farmers has helped strengthen the connection between research and practical application. ILF has also helped to reinforce the role of extension as a noncommercially-biased resource and revitalize the reputation of extension as a trusted partner and resource.


Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series: