Water in the Public Domain

Public domain: a concept that evokes thoughts of music, photographs, paintings, and other creative works of art … and their relationships with copyright policy. From another perspective, public domain is all about shared availability, the common good …  much like our natural resources.

As nearly 40 people gathered for a conservation field day at Paustian Family Farm just outside Walcott, IA this past week, this idea of water in the public domain was an ever-present undercurrent in the conversations among area farmers, landowners, rural and urban residents alike.

In addition to in-field conservation practices like reduced tillage, cover crops, and a close eye on nutrient management, host farmer Mike Paustian is now taking conservation to the edge of the field as well. In fall 2017, the Paustians installed a saturated buffer on their land to specifically address the challenge of nitrates in tile drainage water.

Saturated buffers are a field-scale practice, treating subsurface tile drainage water from 30-80 acres of cropland. The presence of an existing streamside vegetative buffer is a great first step, and makes the installation a breeze. In order to “saturate” the existing buffer, a flow control structure and lateral tile line running parallel to the stream (700’ long, in this case) are installed.

Quite a bit of the water then moves through that new perforated tile line parallel to the stream, slowly trickling out of the tile, working its way through the soil. On this journey to the stream, the water is in direct contact with plant roots and the soil itself – where the biological process of denitrification occurs. Under saturated, anaerobic conditions, naturally occurring bacteria breathe in the nitrate, and then transform it to atmospheric N2 gas, sending cleaner water to the stream (to the tune of 40-50% nitrate reduction).

As folks got to see the saturated buffer firsthand, one of the attendees asked Paustian, “As a city person, why should somebody from Davenport, Pleasant Valley, etc. care about what’s going on out here?”

Paustian responded, “We’re all in this together, using the same water. It’s a limited resource. We’ve got to find common ground – urban and rural – being good stewards of our land and water. That’s why saturated buffers matter out here.”

Washington Co. farmer Steve Berger, an early adopter and long-term user of cover crops, emphasized the benefits of cover crops for water quality, promoting infiltration and likewise minimizing soil erosion.  Berger added, “Anything that comes off this field ends up in the public domain somewhere … long-term no-till and cover crops are working together to keep soil and nutrients in place in the field!”

As Iowa’s water quality continues to garner attention locally, statewide, and even on the national level, that concept of water in the public domain resonates strongly. Bringing urban and rural people together to see how we can work for positive improvements in water quality is a step in the right direction. This field day was an excellent example of the engaging conversations and positive dialogue we at Iowa Learning Farms hope to facilitate surrounding water quality, soil health, and our agricultural production systems across the state of Iowa.

Ann Staudt

Bioreactors – One Piece of the Conservation Puzzle

Learning about denitrifying bioreactors drew a good crowd of farmers and landowners from Central Iowa – and beyond – to the Iowa Learning Farms and Prairie Rivers of Iowa field day on Tuesday, July 17th.  As a relatively new practice designed to reduce losses of nitrates from tile drained water, the crowd on Tuesday showed a high level of awareness and were eager to learn how bioreactors and other edge of field practices fit in to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.IMG_4865

Local landowner Joe Ruetter installed a bioreactor on his farm last fall and has been pleased with the results of reducing nitrate in his tile water.

“We collected a sample a few days ago and the tile water coming in was running about 10-20 ppm of nitrate – well above the safe drinking water standard of 10ppm. At the end of the bioreactor is was 3-5ppm. So I would say the bioreactor is working very well so far.”

Joe also brought up that bioreactors are designed to address nitrate but don’t help with phosphorus so other conservation practices – like no-till and cover crops – are also needed to help reach our goals.

IMG_4862Jace Klein, with Ecosystems Services Exchange, also emphasized the importance of utilizing the right practice in the right place.

“All conservation practices have a place on the landscape. It’s a matter of fitting the right practice in the right location so as to maximize the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the practice,” stated Jace.

In combination with the Conservation Station On The Edge demonstrating the science of denitrification, Jace pointed out the scope to which each practice is capable of treating.

“If you have 40-120 acres next to a stream or creek, a saturated buffer would be the first practice we would explore. If that same sized field doesn’t outlet to a stream, then a bioreactor should be considered. However, if we are looking at multiple connections of tile draining much larger areas the most effective practice to consider would be a wetland,” explained Jace.IMG_4847

By utilizing all the pieces of the puzzle – in-field and edge of field practices – the goals of reducing the losses of nitrogen and phosphorus from our landscape are possible. We have gathered many great resources about edge of field and in-field practices on our website: www.iowalearningfarms.org. You can also visit with your local NRCS office to determine which practices are best suited for your land and discuss cost share opportunities.

Liz Juchems

 

 

Incorporating Prairie on the Farm – Field Day June 21st

ISU STRIPS and the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center will demonstrate the practical use of prairie on a working farm at a field day that will be held 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 21 near Elkader.

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Prairie Strips At Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge

Hosted by Roverud Family Farm, the field day will focus on integrating prairie into row crop fields for sediment and nutrient reduction.  The farm is located at 19575 Sandpit Rd, Elkader.

Other discussion topics include:

  • How to plant prairie on farms
  • Landowner insights
  • Maintenance and weed control
  • Water quality improvement
  • Benefits of prairie on the landscape

There will also be an opportunity to view infield prairie strips and take a field walk following the program.

There is no cost to attend this field day, which includes a complimentary meal with registration. Technical service providers, landowners, farm managers, conservation professionals, and those interested in learning more about the benefits of native vegetation are strongly encouraged to attend.

This event will be held rain or shine. Registration in advance is preferred for meal planning purposes and to be informed of location change in the event of inclement weather. To pre-register, contact Staci Mueller at (319) 273-3866 or staci.mueller@uni.edu by June 18.

For more information, go to www.prairiestrips.org or https:// tallgrassprairiecenter.org/ .

Elkader_Field Day_Final 20180609

 

Reaching out to farmers and landowners

In 2017, Iowa Learning Farms hosted 29 conservation field days and workshops across the state with the goal of reaching out to farmers/operators and landowners. Introduced this year was a new component of our evaluation process – the demographic card. The cards helped provide a snapshot of attendees in terms of their age, gender, role in agriculture and information about their farming operation. The cards also capture preferences on timing and topics of interest for future outreach events.

Midway through 2017, we started to use this information to help us plan better events for the second half of the year. We will continue to experiment with time of day and week for field days to see if we can’t get a better diversity of audience.  Total number of demographic cards collected in 2017 was 915.

Who attended ILF field days in 2017?

Eighty-three percent of the field day attendees identified themselves as either farmers/operators or landowners. Two percent of the attendees were new to farming and four percent would like to start farming. In 2018, we want to explore reaching out to those populations better.2017 ILF Evaluation Report_for blog_attendees

About half of respondents indicate they own over 75% of their land. However, when looking at respondents aged 50 and under, that changes dramatically to 57% of respondents reporting that they own 25% or less of their acres. Faced with many acres changing hands in the next five to ten years, it is important to continue to develop outreach materials and plan events accessible to both landowners and farmer/operators. To reach our goals of increasing conservation implementation, it will be a coordinated effort by both landowners and those who actively farm.

2017 ILF Evaluation Report_for blog-_ageThe average age of farmers/operators attending ILF field days was 55 years, which was slightly younger than the average age of a farmer in Iowa (57 years). This finding has been consistent in the four years that we have been tracking age information. The average age of landowners attending ILF field days was higher at 64 years.

In general, field day attendees indicated a preference for Wednesday field days that were held in the afternoon or after 5 pm.


What about younger farmers?

Seventeen percent of our field day attendees are 35 years or younger; 80% of attendees are men while 20% are women. On average, farmers in this age group farm 739 acres of row crop land (range of 40 – 3,500 acres) and own 25% of their farmland. Nearly 57% of respondents in this category reported that they did not own any of the acres that they currently farm.

Livestock is an early entry point for the next generation to begin or return to the farm. Nearly 60% of this group reported having livestock compared to 45% of respondents in all age groups who identified as farmer/landowner. These younger attendees indicated a preference for events held on Saturdays (48%) followed by Tuesday-Thursday (42%) after 5 pm (50%).

We in the process of updating the ILF Field Day Toolkit and add these findings to event planning best practices.

2017 ILF Evaluation Report_for blog-_younger

Stayed tuned for more highlights from our 2017 Evaluation Report and be sure to click subscribe and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Liz Juchems

Iowa Learning Farms 2017 Evaluation

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In 2017, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a total of 28 field days and workshops that were attended by 1,280 people! We thank everyone who helped to make our events a success; however, there’s one more way that you can help us. If you attended an Iowa Learning Farms field day or workshop in 2017 and identified yourself as a farmer/operator or landowner, you will receive a one-page survey in your mailbox in early January 2018.

Please fill out your survey at your earliest convenience and mail it back to us.

IMG_4542Your responses will help us improve our education and outreach activities in 2018, including field days, workshops and our overall approach to our program. We want to hear from you – what changes did you make to your operation this year? What are your biggest barriers to implementing additional conservation practices? Let your voice be heard and your acres be counted in our year-end survey! If you have any questions about this evaluation, please let us know.

Julie Winter

On-the-Ground Experience with Cover Crops

“What’s building organic matter worth to you?”

For Prairie City, IA farmer Gordon Wassenaar and tenant farmer Will Cannon, it’s worth using no-till and cover crops on every single one of their 1300 acres of cropland.  In a field day hosted by Iowa Learning Farms, Jasper Co. NRCS and SWCD, Wassenaar and Cannon shared their perspectives on cover crops and how they can be very successfully integrated into corn and soybean cropping systems.

Wassenaar, who has farmed for over 50 years, stated that he first got into cover crops for the purpose of protecting the soil from erosion. He started with cereal rye, broadcast seeded from an airplane.

As time has gone on, Wassenaar’s reasons for using cover crops have evolved from simply erosion control, to improving the structure and functioning of the soil — raising soil organic matter, aggregate stability, and water holding capacity. Cannon commented that on top of that, another big benefit is feeding the biodiversity of the soil, like the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, all while growing a healthy crop.

Timing and seed-soil contact are two big factors with establishing successful cover crop stands, and it’s a balancing act between the two. Aerial broadcast seeding (or interseeding with a high clearance vehicle) allows for a larger window of time for fall growth, while drilling provides greater seed-soil contact. Today, Wassenaar and Cannon have moved to drilling all of their cover crops, ideally getting them in the ground 24 hours or less behind the combine.

When asked about the financial considerations of cover crops, Cannon responded, “We’ve got to be willing to be a little creative and inventive to make it work.”  And they certainly are.

Cannon outlined several approaches they are taking to minimize costs and improve efficiencies in their operation:

  1. Shop around for cover crop seed.
    Compare prices with different cover crop seed houses in order to get the best bang for your buck. Wassenaar and Cannon are even considering growing their own cover crop seed down the road.
  2. Consider your seeding techniques.
    Aerial broadcast seeding and custom planting carry a significant cost.  Cannon explained that they have moved to seeding all of their acres now with a drill, which has provided greater seed-soil contact, and thus improved the seeding efficiency in terms of the number of seeds that actually grow (they’ve subsequently optimized/reduced seeding rates accordingly).  They are also saving dollars through the use of a smaller 120hp tractor and a cover crop drill that was bought used.
  3. There are a lot of good programs out there that can help.
    Take a look at the conservation programs and personnel on the federal, state, and local levels that can help out.

With years of experience implementing conservation practices of no-till and cover crops, Wassenaar reflected on how much the technology advances make conservation readily doable today.

“Back in the day, we plowed because we didn’t have planters that could plant into high residue. The equipment is so good today, that now we can plant into just about any residue.  … With cover crops out there, it’s almost like planting onto a mattress.”

Wassenaar is clearly passionate about conservation, and left field day attendees with the following thoughts:

“I don’t know any other way you can farm and save your soil than with no-till and cover crops.  … I’m convinced that if Iowans take care of their soil, the soil will take care of Iowa.”

Ann Staudt

Field Days to Help Participants Improve Profit and Water Quality

Five field days are being offered as part of Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach’s Nitrogen and Water Week, which runs from June 27-29.

June_FieldDay140The purpose of these field days is for farmers and their consultants to learn the research related to profitable nitrogen management and water quality. They will also allow participants to visit the sites where research is occurring relating to nitrogen management and water quality.

The field days will be held throughout the state at ISU Research and Demonstration Farms, providing an opportunity to learn about the university’s research facilities that evaluate nitrate loss. A tour of plots where ISU researchers study the effects of fall application, cover crops and nitrification inhibitors is included in the event. The field days will also provide an opportunity to learn about factors that are used to make nitrogen fertilizer recommendations and nitrogen deficiency in corn and how to correct it.

Participants will leave the field day with a better understanding of research and the breadth of projects and practices that they are evaluating. They will also receive a better understanding of tools that are available to them like the N Rate Calculator and how they can help farmers be more profitable while minimizing impact on water quality.

Each field day will provide the same format and program, with ISU Extension and Outreach field agronomists and agricultural engineering specialists providing instruction. Registration at the research farm meeting room begins at 9:15 on the day of the event, with the program beginning at 9:45. The program concludes at 12:15 p.m. with lunch following.

The format provides for four 30-minute sessions during the field day, discussing how a water quality research site works, what practices are being studied, how effective the various management practices are in reducing nitrogen loss, and the impact of those practices on farm profitability.

2017 Nitrogen and Water Week Field Days

There is a $25 registration fee for the program that includes lunch, refreshments, and course materials and publications. Attendees are asked to pre-register to assist with facility and meal planning. For additional information or to register online visit www.aep.iastate.edu/nitrogen.

Jamie Benning

Jamie Benning is an Iowa Learning Farms team member and Water Quality Program Manager at Iowa State University.