Chatting about Conservation with Sharon Krause – From Farm to Community

When it comes to conservation, Sharon Krause, strives for a comprehensive approach. As owner and operator of Dalla Terra Ranch, a grass fed organic lamb operation, and a member of the Earlham community, she has a love for preserving soil and water as well as town heritage and pride.

In the 30th episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito met with Sharon, a native Iowan, to discuss her passion for lambs, healthy lands and her local community.

Sharon KrauseSharon’s motivation for conservation and the love of the outdoors is credited to her parents who encouraged her to get outside and explore the world around her.  They also supported her as she pursued her engineering degree at Iowa State University.

Upon graduation, she was the first female engineer hired at the Firestone in Des Moines and helped launch their recycling program.  Her career then led her to Metro Waste Authority where she pioneered their Curb It! Program that made household recycling easier which has led to increased participation. Before the program began in 1994, an average of 8 pounds per household was recycled each week. In 2015, nearly 28,000 tons of material were recycled through the program.

From working a tire manufacturing plant to a landfill and now a farm, Sharon and her husband, Kyle, joke that “she is not having fun if she’s not dirty!”

Sharon began her lamb operation about 10 years ago and as a former engineer, she is using data and research to help make decisions. The operation maintains about 225 ewes that throw nearly 400 lambs each year.  Using a smart phone app, she analyzes her operation’s performance by tracking time spent in each of the 23 smaller pastures of the larger 153 acres of pasture that the lambs rotational graze.

“I very intensely rotationally graze my animals over the course of the year. You want to be very care that you don’t let your foliage get too short. That’s very hard on the root system and there’s not enough leaf area to take in the sunshine. So the shorter you graze your pastures, the less production you are really going to get.”

In addition to implementing conservation practices on her land, Sharon is helping lead a project to revitalize the Bricker-Price Block on Main Street Earlham.  Through community input, the project aims to provide a farm-to-table restaurant, community center and a youth gathering space.  The conservation of the building’s history will help tell the story of the city and strengthen the vitality of the rural community.

Tune in to Episode 30 of the Conservation Chat for more of this great conversation with Sharon Krause!  You can also download or listen to any of the previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and on iTunes.

Liz Juchems


Who Doesn’t Want to See More Cattle on the Rolling Green Pastures of Iowa?

I have a soft spot for beef cattle. I mean, who doesn’t like to see cattle on rolling green fields on a beautiful Iowa summer day? While this pastoral scene can bring tranquility and enjoyment, returning more land to grazing has water quality benefits and social benefits.

gilmorecity1As you know, I spend most my time thinking or talking about the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS). Most of my presentations are on edge-of-field nitrate reduction practices. My job is to study specific engineering solutions to our water resource issues. Perhaps not all of our problems can be solved through engineering? Radical thought.

When you really look at our nutrient loss issues, the most important factor affecting nutrient loss is that today there are primarily annual row crops where once there was perennial vegetation pre-settlement or diverse crop rotations during the early 1900’s.

These cropping systems have made Iowa an agricultural leader. We are unlikely to see major land use changes in the near future, but I do think there is potential for more
diverse land uses, especially in certain areas in Iowa. One way to diversify would be an March_img_4373increase in pasture and hay land. For this to work, we would need more cattle to forage.

The Iowa NRS Nonpoint Source Science Assessment estimated that grazed pastureland had 85% nitrate-N reduction and 59% P reduction compared to an annual corn-soybean system. Another added value of having greater need for forage by cattle might be that this could greatly improve the potential economics of cover crops. Late fall and early spring grazing could provide some of the forage needs for the cattle.


The infrastructure to increase beef cattle on pasture is not what it once was. We have taken out miles of fence throughout the state and there are substantial labor needs for an integrated livestock-cropping system. On the other hand, adding some diversity to agricultural operations could open up opportunities for young farmers to get back on the landscape.

DSCN0318As we move forward with implementation of nutrient reduction practices, it is important to think about our livestock system and how we might be able to increase the number of cattle on pasture in Iowa. Not only could this benefit our environment and maybe provide more opportunities for young people to get into agriculture, it could also add substantial beauty to our landscape with cattle grazing green pastures.

Matt Helmers

To explore the benefits of pasture-based livestock operations, check out Dr. Helmers’ Conservation Chat or Leopold Center Dr. Mark Rasmussen’s Conservation Chat. Matt Helmers is an Iowa Learning Farms team member and Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University. 

Conservation Chat: Talking Patience and Passion with Farmer Nathan Anderson

In the latest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast, host Jacqueline Comito sat down with Nathan Anderson, a young Iowa farmer who farms in eastern Cherokee County. Nathan’s farm includes row crop corn and soybeans, a cow-calf herd that is rotationally grazed and other conservation practices such as no-till, strip-till, diverse cover crop mixes, nutrient management and CRP.

Nathan graduated from Iowa State in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy. He always knew he wanted to go back to his family’s farm. After a conversation with his father just before graduation, Nathan knew that was the time for him to head back. “My whole life, I’ve wanted to be able to come back and farm,” said Nathan. “I’m really thankful for that opportunity.”


The Anderson family made room for Nathan and his wife, Sarah, and allowed the couple to rent some of their own farmland. Alongside his father, Nathan was given room to try new things, including adding cover crops to the operation, beginning rotational grazing for the cow-calf operation, increasing herd size and even changing the genetics of the herd to include cattle that could better utilize the pasture resources he was cultivating.


“It takes people like my dad who are willing to let somebody come back into the farming operation,” Nathan said of his father. He recognizes that his father made sacrifices, including “[forgoing] some of that income, and also [letting] me try new things that maybe he doesn’t agree with or doesn’t know about.”

speaking_pfi-field-day-2016As a third-generation farmer, Nathan sees the changes he makes today as an investment for the future legacy of the farm. He also sees the family farm as an important tool. Nathan participates in on-farm research with Iowa Learning FarmsPractical Farmers of Iowa and other organizations to contribute to the knowledge base of cover crops and rotational grazing as he works to minimize the off-farm ecological impacts of his farming practices.

Nathan has become actively involved in the conservation world by not only getting practices on his own land, but also by frequently sharing his experiences at field days, workshops and conferences. He holds several positions, including Cherokee County SWCD Assistant Commissioner, PFI Board Member and Cherokee County Farm Bureau Young Farmer committee member. In the six years that he has been back on the farm, Nathan has had both great and challenging moments. While he has helped to make many changes, he recognizes that there are limits.

“This farming world that we work in, there are a lot of things that we might want to do and we can’t have them all right now,” Nathan commented. “It’s a practice of patience. Patience is active. If you’re being patient, you have to work at it.”

Listen to the Conservation Chat with Nathan Anderson for more of the interview!

Julie Whitson


Chatting with Seth Watkins: Curiosity, Creativity and Happy Cows

The latest episode in the Conservation Chat podcast series features an engaging interview with Seth Watkins of Pinhook Farm, near Clarinda in southwest Iowa. Watkins has a 600-head cow-calf enterprise and takes a whole farm approach to conservation: rotational grazing, wetlands, late season calving, and row crops integrated with prairie strips and cover crops.

Program Director Jacqueline Comito interviewed Watkins earlier in May after we had completed a farm tour-slash-field trip with a small group of Corning Elementary students (read more about it in our blog post ILF Partner Seth Watkins hosts 3rd Grade Field Trip).


This Conservation Chat episode is enjoyable and thought-provoking throughout– it’s a fascinating discussion about agricultural production, sustainability, curiosity, continual learning, and striving to make rural Iowa a better place to live.

“When you invest in the land, your community prospers.”

What really stood out to me is Seth’s spirit of innovation, determination, and constant learning. Grandson of Jessie Field Shambaugh, widely known as the Mother of 4-H, Seth is truly a modern-day Renaissance man!

“So much of what I’ve learned, and I continue to love to read different aspects of history, economics, things about art, about thinking… those are what have really driven the success of my farm business.”

Listen to the full interview with Seth Watkins on the Conservation Chat website, ILF website, or iTunes.

And for another fun perspective on Seth’s farming operation, check out Episode 23 in the Adventures of the Conservation Pack! Conservation dog Charlie gets to go on an adventure exploring Seth’s pond and learning about how it reduces erosion, filters water, and provides habitat.

Ann Staudt

April Cover Crop Field Days – Register Today!

It is officially spring and cover crop fields are beginning green up across the state!

Meerdink Cover Crops

Photo Credit: Becca Meerdink from Deep Creek Watershed Project in Plymouth County

The Iowa Learning Farms has three cover crop field days coming up in early April.  The field days will highlight the benefits of grazing cover crops, discuss spring management, and an evaluation of seeding techniques.  Plan to attend a field day listed below and hear from local farmers using cover crops in their operations, as well as ISU Extension and Outreach field specialists and staff from Practical Farmers of Iowa.

April 12, 12:30pm – 2:30pm
Cover Crop Management and Grazing Field Day
Hosts: Daryl Ducommun and Ramona & John Nitz
4265 R Ave, Larrabee
In partnership with Gere Creek Watershed
RSVP: 515-294-5429 or
Press Release

April 13, 10:30am – 12:30pm

Cover Crop Seeding Techniques Field Day
½ mile west of Main St, Kanawha
Field Location Map:
RSVP: 515-294-5429 or
Press Release

April 14: 5:30pm – 8:00pm

Grassroots Grazing of Cover Crops
Henry County Extension Office
127 N. Main, Mt. Pleasant
RSVP to Henry County Extension Office: 319-385-8126 by April 12
Press Release


We hope to see you there!

Liz Juchems

Grazing cover crops? Check your herbicide labels!

A new Iowa State University Extension and Outreach (ISUEO) publication aims to make herbicide labels easier to read, especially if you are considering grazing cover crops.

Interest in cover crops has dramatically increased due to their many potential benefits. In addition to conservation purposes, cover crops can provide forage for livestock producers. It is important for livestock producers to consider restrictions on labels of herbicides used earlier in the growing season if they intend to use the cover crop as a forage source. Herbicide Pub_Page_1


The two primary reasons for label restrictions related to cover crops are: 1) herbicide residues may prevent successful establishment of the cover crop, or 2) residue tolerances have not been established for the presence of the herbicide within the cover crop. Regardless of the reason for the restriction, failing to follow the restrictions is a violation of the label and therefore a punishable offense.


Bob Hartzler, professor in agronomy and extension weed specialist at ISU, Meaghan Anderson, field agronomist with ISUEO and Rebecca Vittetoe, field agronomist for ISUEO reviewed herbicide labels and created an easy to read chart of common herbicide products.

The publication is free to download from the ISUEO Extension Store.

Liz Juchems





Field days offer perspectives on cover crops, nutrient management, and more

The days are long, the crops are lush and green, and the temperatures are a bit cooler – late summer field days can’t be beat!

150821-SunsetThese next few weeks offer numerous learning opportunities at Iowa Learning Farms field days across the state!  Come hear from farmers about how they are integrating conservation practices such as cover crops, nutrient management, bioreactors, drainage water management, and pasture management into their operations. In addition to diving in and learning from farmers as well as experts from ISU and other partner organizations, each Iowa Learning Farms field day also includes a complimentary meal.

Click on the links below for more detailed information about these field days happening over the next several weeks.  See you there!

Nutrient Reduction Strategies field day
Aug. 26, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Key Co-op, Roland
Learn about the pre-sidedress nitrate test and bioreactors; visit a CREP wetland.

Nutrient Reduction Strategies field day
Aug. 27, 5-7 p.m.
Drainage Research site, Gilmore City
Come celebrate 25 years of research and technology development at the Gilmore City site. Join Bill Northey, John Lawrence, Matt Helmers, Carl Pederson and Bill Crumpton as they discuss ways to reduce nutrients entering our water bodies including the use of cover crops and wetlands.

“Conservation at Work” field day
Sept. 2, 5-7:30 p.m.
Smeltzer Learning Farm, Otho
Learn about cover crops, bioreactors, saturated buffers, wetlands and drones. See a cover crop fly-on! You are invited to an optional field tour of the Smeltzer Learning Farm before/after the field day.

Walnut Creek Watershed Project field day
Sept. 3, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Hosted by Jim Bourn, Red Oak
Hear how cover crops can improve water quality from area farmer Chris Teachout and see a demonstration of the Yield 360 Soilscan, which measures the amount of nitrate ions in the soil.

Water Quality Improvement field day
Sept. 10, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Hosted by Arliss Nielsen, Woolstock
The field day will focus on water quality through drainage water management and cover crops. Arliss has installed a drainage system on 320 acres of his farm. Other presenters include farmer Tim Smith, Stefan Gailans with Practical Farmers of Iowa, Keegan Kult with Iowa Soybean Association, and the Boone River Watershed Quality Initiative.

150821-CattleGrazing Management field day
Sept. 17, 5-7 p.m.
Hosted by Moore Angus Farms, Melrose
Join the Cooper Creek Watershed Project leaders at the field day to learn about grassland management, grazing, and cost-share programs for grasslands.

Ann Staudt