May 28 Virtual Field Day: Celebrating Iowa’s Wetlands

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and Conservation Learning Group, is hosting a free virtual wetland field day on Thursday, May 28th at 1pm CDT.  

From fens to oxbows to prairie potholes, each wetland has a role to play. Within a row crop system, these areas offer an opportunity to improve water quality and field profitability when allowed to function as wetlands rather than cropped areas. The wetland plants also provide a great habitat for a variety of pollinators.

May is American Wetlands Month and to celebrate, the event will take you on a tour of the diversity of wetlands found in Iowa. The event will include video footage from a variety of wetlands in north Central Iowa and live interaction with Kay Stefanik, Iowa Nutrient Research Center Assistant Director and Adam Janke, Iowa State University Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist. Together they will discuss how these sites were formed, identify features that make each wetland unique – including the wildlife and plants, and answer questions from attendees on how farmers and landowners can work with and around the wetlands.

“Most people are familiar with created wetlands used to treat agricultural runoff but may not know that natural wetlands benefit us too”, says Stefanik, a wetland and aquatic ecologist who has studied plants and nutrient cycling in freshwater ecosystems. “Natural wetlands improve water quality, help to retain floodwaters and potentially minimize downstream flooding, as well as provide critical habitat for plants and animals.”

“Because of the diverse geologic history of Iowa’s landscapes, we have a large variety of interesting and unique wetland types found throughout the state” says Janke, whose research has focused on understanding how birds use different types of wetlands. “The area in north-central Iowa we are featuring during this virtual field day is really remarkable for the diversity of wetland types it has within a small geographic area.”

Make plans to join us and participate in the live field day. Shortly before 1:00 pm CDT on May 28th, click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser:

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

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 Ripley

ILF Scores Quickly with Virtual Field Days

When plans for the spring series of field days were scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) team pooled their collective creativity and experience to quickly develop a method for effective delivery of a field day via online tools. With this effort, the ILF Virtual Field Day went from idea to reality in the space of a few weeks. And it worked out great!

The task came with some fundamental challenges; 1) How to generate content, 2) How to script and produce compelling and interesting programs, 3) Finding and using the right delivery platform, and 4) Technology.

ILF program director Jacqueline Comito, proposed the idea of interleaving short video segments with live commentary and discussion between the virtual meeting host, presenters, and the audience to help keep the audience engaged and the program moving. Understanding that an audience watching on computer screens does not have the same attention span as one gathered on a farm, the virtual events would only run one hour.

These video segments would also provide a great deal of flexibility by transporting the audience to multiple sites without getting their boots muddy.

Getting the Content

As you all know, Iowa can be fairly windy, so getting good sound quality while outdoors can be challenging. After a few early experiments that failed, Comito settled on using her iPhone X with a Beastgrip Pro, tripod, Samson wireless microphone system, and Lightning-to-USB camera adapter. This combination delivered excellent video and audio quality, and provided production agility, enabling quick set up and tear down in multiple locations around the farm. The wireless microphone also facilitated social distancing for all participants in each shoot.

A helpful tip is to shoot more video and b-roll (video without a presenter which is used in editing to smooth transitions and add interest) than you think you could possibly use. This simplifies editing offers more options for creativity.

Production and Editing

Our video production goal is producing multiple visually meaningful video segments to reinforce the live presentation content. Just like agenda items for an in-person field day, each video segment contributes to the flow of the field day and must have a clear purpose. The videos bring the field to the virtual audience in ways that cannot be done with still photographs. Cutting together shots of the presenter speaking with close-ups or b-roll showing what they are talking about will keep the audience hooked and visually reinforce the message.

Since no one on staff had days to dedicate to the editing of the video material, we needed an editing program that was simple to use with professional features and a reasonable price. With this in mind, we selected Movavi. It is intuitive for beginners yet has some nice advanced features for people with more experience and time.

Delivering the Program

We chose Zoom as the delivery platform. A major advantage of Zoom is its integrated participant registration. ILF offers CCA credits to participants, but must have appropriate registration records to validate submissions. Registration also provides us with a ready-made list for sending follow up evaluations – a hallmark of the ILF program and fundamental tool for assessing the success of the event.

We have also experimented with different approaches during the live event to encourage natural and dynamic interactions between presenters and participants. These field days are not meant to be a one-way presentation such as a webinar, but an opportunity for discussion and back-and-forth conversations. We actively encourage participants to ask questions directly or through the Zoom chat feature. However, we have learned that it is more effective for a field day host to read the questions to the presenters to keep the conversation flowing.

Technical Lessons Learned

Moving quickly while breaking new ground, we ran into some technical challenges with the virtual field day productions. Things such as the recording issues noted earlier were quickly resolved. Others took more experimentation and research. Immediate and survey feedback was crucial in helping us understand and resolve the issues.

Despite performing technology tests before each of first two events, we got feedback that the video was choppy, and the motion didn’t sync with the sound. We consulted experts and tested multiple configurations before finding what we believe to be the golden ticket for reliably delivering the program. It certainly isn’t point-and-click, but it delivers the result we want.

  • Record at 720p and compress during the export process
  • Upload the video to YouTube
  • Embed YouTube video into PowerPoint
  • Share PowerPoint screen via Zoom using a dual monitor computer set up

A word of caution – when streaming YouTube embedded in PowerPoint, the screen sharing host cannot click anywhere while the video is playing. If they do, it will cause the video to stop and will resume at the beginning of the video when they hit play. So be sure to mute and turn off the host camera before hitting that play button!

Assessing Success

After getting past all the technical parts of virtual field days, we are left with two additional challenges: 1) Assessing the educational impact of the event, and 2) Reaching more farmers and producers. As with the technical side, we are experimenting with effective evaluation and promotion practices.

Adapting our standard field day survey strategy to the virtual environment, we send a brief online survey to all participants immediately after the event using Qualtics XM. An email reminder is sent one week later. Response rates to the three virtual field day evaluations have been about the same as we typically receive for our standard two-week evaluations.

We are actively working to increase participation from farmers and landowners by sending direct mail and electronic invitations to field day participants from the past three years. We hope that by reaching out directly, we will be able to encourage increased participation in future events.

As we continue to improve the virtual field day experience, we are excited about the positive feedback we’ve heard. Virtual field days will not replace in-person field days but the ability to visit multiple sites and opening attendance to those beyond driving distance make them a good addition to the full outreach program. We do look forward to getting back into the fields. Until then, stay safe and we look forward to seeing (or hearing you) online!

Jackie Comito and Liz 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:

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

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

Building a Culture of Conservation – One Field Day at a Time

We are excited to announce the release of our 2019 field day evaluation report, now available online. Since 2004, we have utilized a multi-level evaluation process to gather feedback from attendees on the quality of the events, as well as information on the conservation practices they are implementing.

Highlights from this year’s report:

  • 23% of field day attendees were under age 35
  • 23% were female
  • 76% of farmers responding to surveys are using conservation practices (no-till/strip-till, cover crops, extended crop rotation, rotational grazing, prairie strips, pollinator habitat, saturated buffer and bioreactor.)

Cover crops are a key tool to helping meet the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy with the goal of 12 to 14 million acres statewide. Through the year-end evaluation process, we are able to create an estimate of the total acres, as well as gather data on species used and cost share usage.

Key cover crop findings:

16% growth in cover crop plantings.

Only 10% of new acres were from first time cover crop users – now a five year trend of declines of plantings from new farmers.

Cost share usage remained at 68%, while 75% of first time users reported using cost share.

Cereal rye remains the dominate species, followed by oats – 90% used rye, 21% used oats.

Reasons for implementing conservation practices varies by operation, but a new question asked respondents to identify their #1 reason from the following: variable weather, soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat, landlord stipulation, and reduce soil erosion.

Many practices that address the top two reasons, soil health and reducing soil erosion, also reduce nutrient loss. These topics bring farmers and landowners to field days, enabling reinforcement of practice value and introduction of additional approaches that can address their needs and help achieve Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

Field days matter!  Farmers that attend more field days are more likely to plant cover crops, network with other farmers and influence more farmers than attended the event.

While our 2020 field day season has been delayed, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date on events in your area.

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

Prepare for Crop Year 2020 by Attending a Spring Field Day

Iowa Learning Farms is hosting four spring cover crop field days. Make plans to attend one near you! RSVP today to 515-294-5429 or

March 17, Cover Crop Field Day
Agri-Tech Aviation
12871 Geneva St
Indianola, IA 50125
Warren County
Partners: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Natural Resource Conservation Service
Press Release

March 18, Cover Crop and Soil Health Field Day
Campbell Farm
2260 Hwy 30
Grand Mound, IA 52751
Clinton County
Partner: Natural Resource Conservation Service
Press Release

March 24, Cover Crop Field Day
Roger Van Donselaar Farm
511 6th Avenue West
Grinnell, IA 50112
Poweshiek County
Partners: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Poweshiek County Soil and Water Conservation District
Press Release

April 9, Cover Crop Termination Field Day
Rick Juchems Farm
33635 110th St
Plainfield, IA 50666
Butler County
Partners: Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship 
*Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig will be speaking*

Liz Ripley

Step 1: Determine Your Goals for Cover Crops

ILFHeader(15-year)At our final event of the year, one underlying theme was mentioned by all our speakers. To be successful with cover crops, the first step is to determine what your goals are. From there you can determine which species, seeding methods and termination plans are best suited for your operation.

Sioux County farmers Micah and Josh Rensink have been using cover crops since 2016 and have seeded them using a Hagie into standing crops, aerially into standing soybeans and drilling after silage harvest for neighbors with livestock.


“Our main goals are to reduce erosion, build organic matter, hold nutrients and reduce our herbicide use,” noted Josh. “We have looked a different mixes and seeding methods to find what will work best for us. While we don’t have livestock in our operation, cover crops provide a wide range of forage options. That is one way to help with the economics side of cover crops.”

IMG_0105Based on their experiences and those they worked with Micah had some great advice, “Be sure to know the seed source and quality before seeding to avoid potential weed contamination and future frustration. Cheaper seed isn’t always a better deal!”

When asked what advice they would give to first time cover crop users they stated, “Start small and start simple. Get cover crops on acres going to soybeans and give it a try. Reach out to those around you trying it. We would be happy to chat with you, too.”

IMG_0117Joel DeJong, ISU Extension Field Agronomist, also had some great tips to share to help align cover crops with producer goals:

  • After September 15 – seed a winter small grain (rye, barley, wheat, triticale).
  • Be sure to check the herbicide labels for grazing restrictions and modify herbicide plans as needed to ensure legal forage use.
  • Utilize resources like the Midwest Cover Crop Council Selector Tool
  • Available cost-share for cover crops ≠ goal – ask yourself “What do I want to get from using cover crops” instead.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, like the group of Dordt University students who wanted to experiment with interseeding and built their own custom seeder (below). Look forward to more cover crop trials and results from Dordt University students in the near future!


Liz Juchems

Any way you want it, that’s the way to seed it!

ILFHeader(15-year)The panelists at our field day last week near Luana all use a variety of seeding methods to get the cover crops in the field, but all agreed that the cover crops offer a variety of benefits to their farming operation.

Landsgard Cover Crop 3Daryl Landsgard, who typically drills his cover crops, stated “Rye is king of cover crops in terms of soil health and getting biomass to improve the soil.”

Landsgard shared a recent experience where his farm received over two inches of rain in a very short time period. By the time it stopped and he got his boots on to check the field behind his house, the water had almost completely infiltrated. In his curiosity, he took a drive down the road and noted how there was still significant amounts of water standing in fields that had tillage done earlier in the year.

“Water infiltration is one of the greatest benefits of cover crops and no-till,” noted Landsgard

IMG_4478Using a modified soybean planter, Ron Sass seeds his cover crops to reduce soil erosion. “We need to keep soil around for thousands of generations to come. We can’t loose any more! The benefit of me using cover crops is for the farmers of the future – they’ll get more out it than I will.”

Rounding out the panel was Joe Shirbroun, who has used an airplane and had pretty good results the past couple of years. He is motivated to find a way to make cover crops work on his farm while he has the flexibility to learn the best management with the help from cost-share.

IMG_4487“Regulation is coming. I use cost share to figure out how to do this before they (cover crops) get mandated. Right now, it isn’t a net gain, it is a small loss but I am willing to do that for water quality,” commented Shirbroun.

Any way you want it, that’s the way to seed it! If you are interested in adding cover crops to your land, there are multiple ways to get them seeded to help match your system goals and labor availability.  Consider starting with cereal rye before soybeans and seeding oats ahead of corn.

There are a lot of great resources available on our website, but also at your county ISU Extension Office or NRCS Office and local farmers in your area who have been successful with cover crops on their farms.  Make a plan to get cover crops part of your operation in 2020!.

Liz Juchems


The New Frontier of Farming


“This is a really exciting time to be a farmer,” Jerry Dove told a large crowd during a cover crop and no-till focused workshop at his farm in Janesville on November 21st, “Soil health is the new frontier.”

Jerry DoveDove described the ways he’s been making cover crops and no-till work on his farm and his excitement was infectious. He described coming home from a no-till conference with the goal to plant green and how he planted soybeans into a 20 inch tall cereal rye cover crop. “It was a neat thing to walk around in,” he said, “It was fun to see the soybeans come through.” He then terminated the cover crop about three days after planting his beans.

He went on to explain the wonderful partnership that he sees between cover crops and no-till. “If you haven’t started no-till, you have to this year,” Dove urged after describing the improvements in soil structure and infiltration that he’s seen on his farm, “It doesn’t make any sense to beat up your field by driving over it.”

Attendees at the field day later got to compare the soil structure on the Dove farm to soil from a conventionally tilled field when a slake test was performed. The difference between Dove’s no-tilled soil and the conventionally tilled soil was immediately obvious, with Dove’s soil maintaining its aggregate stability after being submerged in water.

Slake Test Jerry Dove FD

No-till soil from Dove’s farm on the left, compared to conventionally tilled soil on the right during a slake test

Jason Gomes from North Iowa Agronomy Partners, Shaffer Ridgeway with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Elizabeth Juchems, Iowa Learning Farms, rounded out the presenters at the field day. If you’re interested in learning more about cover crops or no-till, join us at an upcoming field day near you!

Hilary Pierce

Kicking off the fall field day season!


While harvest 2019 is proving to be a challenge across the state, it is never to early to make plans for the 2020 crop season. Plan to join us for one of our upcoming fall field days and workshops to get a jump start on your conservation planning for next year!

RSVP to 515-294-5429 or to join us for the free meal offered at each event.

November 7: Cover Crop and Wetland Field Day – Featuring the Conservation Learning Lab Project
Borlaug Learning Center ISU
3327 290th St
Nashua, IA 50658
Floyd County
Partners: Natural Resources Conservation Services, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Press Release

November 21: Cover Crop and Soil Health Field Day
Jerry Dove Farm
Janesville, IA
Black Hawk County
Partners: Dry Run Creek Watershed, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Natural Resources Conservation Services
Press Release

December 3: Cover Crop Workshop

Titan Machinery
23604 Diagonal Rd
Grundy Center, IA
Partners: Grundy County SWCD, NRCS

December 5: Cover Crop Workshop

Luana Savings Bank Community Center
100 Harvest Drive
Luana, IA
Partners: Clayton County SWCD, NRCS, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship


If you are interested in hosting or partnering on a field day, please contact Liz Juchems at 515-294-5429 or

Celebrating 30 Years of Drainage Research

ILFHeaderThis year marks 30 years for the ISU Drainage Research and Demonstration Project site near Gilmore City. To celebrate this milestone, Iowa Learning Farms partnered with the Ag Water Drainage Management team to host a field day this week to share findings from ongoing cover crop and water quality studies.

Kicking off the field day was Humboldt County farmer, Doug Adams, sharing his experiences with implementing cover crops on his farm.

DSC_2303“I started the transition to strip-till with just a few acres. I worked with a local farm management company to contract the strips. Due to the weather this spring, we are trying no-till for the first time and have been happy with the results so far,” noted Doug.

Doug has been using primarily rye and rapeseed as cover crops on the majority of his acres. Ideally, he is killing the rye when it is about 8 inches in height, before the plant elongates for easier termination and quicker decomposition back to the soil.  He has noted improvements in the soil health in his fields and recommends all farmers take a shovel to their soil and have a look for themselves.

“One of the most valuable tools you have is a shovel to take a look at the soil. The highest yield doesn’t always result in the highest profit – cutting costs through nitrogen management and improving soil health is key.”

DSC_2306Morgan Davis, Natural Resource Ecology and Management graduate research assistant, is researching a variety of soil health aspects at the site. With multiple crops, tillage practices and treatments with and without cover crops, the site allows for a wealth of data to see how soil carbon and nitrogen vary.

“Although total carbon and total nitrogen is similar across the various plots, the more  accessible carbon and nitrogen and depth of available nutrients is higher when cover crops are used. This allows the microorganisms present in the soil to more easily utilize those nutrients and improve overall soil health,” noted Morgan.


Some key findings of the ongoing cover crop and water quality research was shared by Matt Helmers, ISU professor and Ag and Biosystems engineer, who leads the research team.

  • Even without fertilizer applied, a corn-soybean rotation lost 15-20 lb N/acre at nitrate-N concentrations of 6-8 mg/L.
  • When N-fertilizer is applied at economic N-rates, the average concentration of nitrate-N in the tile drainage ranged from 12-16 mg/L. (Drinking water standard is 10mg/L.)
  • Use of a cover crop has the potential to reduce nitrate-N concentration in drainage water. For the conventional tillage plots, nitrate concentrations were reduced by 4-4.8 mg/L, in the soybean phase and corn phase respectively.

Based on these studies, high nitrate-N levels are less about mismanagement of N-fertilizer and more a result of the land use and cropping practices.

That’s why in-field practices like cover crops and no-till, alongside edge-of-field practices like saturated buffers, bioreactors, and wetlands, play a large role in meeting the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

To learn more about these practices, be sure to attend a field day near you! Check out our events page and subscribe to our newsletter to stay connected.

Liz Juchems