Virtual Field Day October 29: Touring Iowa’s Forests

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day offering a tour of Iowa’s varied forests on Thursday, October 29th at 1 p.m. CDT. Join us for a live conversation with Billy Beck, Iowa State University Assistant Professor and Extension Forestry Specialist, Joe Herring, Iowa Department of Natural Resources District Forester, and Riggs Wilson, Wildlife Management Institute Forester.

The virtual field day will offer an opportunity to tour common forest types and explore the value they bring to the landscape. From floodplain forests to working trees in a windbreak, trees provide a variety of ecosystem services like wildlife habitat and improved water quality as well as the potential to harvest trees for added economic value. The field day will also highlight the importance of management for long-living, healthy forests.

Billy Beck and Riggs Wilson exploring the oak savanna that will be featured in the virtual field day

“There is often confusion of what management means to maintain a vibrant forest that provides great value to the landowner,” noted Beck. “This field day will explore options for managing a variety of forest types found in Iowa to help landowners identify strategies for doing so on their property.”

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on October 29th, click HERE or visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events and click “Join Live Virtual Field Day”.

 Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

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

    Meeting ID: 914 1198 4892

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

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU). Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.

Liz Ripley

Enhancing Monarch Butterfly Conservation in Iowa

Iowa Learning Farms hosted webinar on Wednesday, September 16 about monarch butterfly conservation efforts in Iowa. During the webinar, Steve Bradbury, professor in the Departments of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and Entomology at Iowa State University explained monarch life cycles, migration and population decline. Up to 50% of the population that overwinters in Mexico comes from the corn belt of the US, making it critical to conserve and establish additional monarch habitat in Iowa.

Although year-to-year variability of the the monarch population is to be expected, the overall trend is declining. The concerning decline has been caused by extreme weather, deforestation in Mexico (which has been stabilized), and habitat loss (milkweed and other nectar resources) in the upper Midwest. In order for the population to be sustainable and able to withstand extreme weather events, it needs to occupy six hectares of the forest in Mexico. In order to achieve this, 1.6 billion additional stems (of milkweed and nectar resources) need to be established in the upper Midwest.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium was formed in 2015 to determine Iowa’s part in the establishment of habitat in the upper Midwest. Significant habitat needs to be established in Iowa and the conservation strategy for Iowa breaks out how many acres of habitat need to be established and opportunities to do so without taking acres out of crop production. Grass dominated sites are areas where there is opportunity to establish monarch/pollinator habitat and research is being done on the best way to transform these sites. Bradbury shared lessons learned from the demonstration sites during the webinar.

To learn more about monarchs and monarch conservation efforts in Iowa, watch the full webinar here!

Join us on Wednesday, September 23, for a webinar titled “Iowa Flood Center Floodplain Mapping Programs” presented by Witold (Witek) Krajewski, Director of the Iowa Flood Center.

Hilary Pierce

It’s a Matter of Trust

Mark Rasmussen | Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture Director

In recent times we have experienced a significant erosion of trust in our society. Intentional obfuscation, half truths and outright lies seem to be an everyday occurrence now. Such deception and dishonestly takes a toll on everyone, from personal interactions to national and international affairs.

Trust and honestly is especially important with respect to our state and federal regulatory agencies. We rely on these organizations to evaluate and approve drugs, medical treatments and chemicals based upon science and a thorough process of due diligence. But when a whiff of politics or influence enters that decision-making process, decades of trust can evaporate very quickly. When trust is lost, lawsuits usually follow.

This is especially relevant in the business of food and agriculture because food is a universal exposure (everyone eats) and because agriculture has such a huge footprint on the landscape. Regulatory decisions regarding food and environmental safety are important not just for humans but also for the rest of the biological world, on field and off.

I have been thinking a lot about what causes the loss of a species. We have all heard news about honey-bee Colony Collapse, and many wait anxiously for annual Monarch butterfly migration numbers. Many explanations try to deflect responsibility by citing a complicated list of factors such as disease, parasites, reproduction, habitat, critical co-species, over-harvesting and social inertia. Unfortunately, other than a few celebrity species in the “going, going, gone” book of life, many don’t get much attention as they quietly fade away.

While many factors have an impact on biodiversity, extinction or survival, I want to focus on one factor that does not get adequate consideration. This involves a complex mix of toxicology, multi-chemical interactions, sub lethal dosages, and off-target environmental consequences. This is where trust in our regulatory agencies is vital. Their decisions are important because the products we use, the medicines we take, and the chemicals we apply ultimately end up in our soil, water, and air. These represent an extensive array of drugs, hormones, cleaners, pesticides and personal care products.

Things get complicated quickly when chemical mixtures are involved. Scientists that work in this area are faced with a complex array of interacting ingredients, many possessing residual biological activity that lingers long after use.

Most undergo regulatory approval as pure compounds, and some information is available on their environmental impacts but often a lot of information is restricted and filed away in confidential regulatory application files. I get very frustrated when I seek out such information and find it is cloaked as confidential.

Only later do we find that someone has identified unanticipated deleterious consequences from use of a chemical that has put some species at risk. Maybe our own. Such surprises happen more frequently than they should. We need our regulatory experts to make evaluations using the best available science free from undue influence. It’s a matter of trust.

If you feel frustrated, I share your frustration. For some, this complicated research process may be cause for despair and surrender to the idea that we can never figure this out, so why try. For others it means; “Forge ahead. We need this product now and we will just assume nature will take care of it.” Others react with a resolute: “Stop now! Ban it”.

None of these positions are particularly helpful. More than ever, we need to be thorough and deliberative in our decisions. We need to double-down on research and knowledge-formation. We need more scientists and more open research on the environmental aspects of multi-chemical interactions. We also need more support for scientists doing this work.

We need the relevant industrial partner to provide metabolic, toxicological and degradation data before a product is released into the environment so there are no surprises. We also need to maintain a little humility. The chemistry of life is vastly complicated. And finally, we need a regulatory system that is not harassed into ignoring science and making inappropriate or premature decisions as a result of political pressure.

Life on earth and our own well-being depends on getting good, timely answers to these complicated questions. The clock is ticking.

Mark Rasmussen, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture Director

September 16 Webinar: Enhancing Monarch Butterfly Conservation in Iowa

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, September 16 at noon about monarch butterfly conservation efforts in Iowa.    

Steve Bradbury, professor in the Departments of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and Entomology at Iowa State University will provide an overview of monarch butterfly declines over the past two decades, causes of the declines and Iowa’s goal of establishing between 215,000 to 390,000 new acres of monarch habitat in agricultural landscapes over the next decade. Bradbury will also offer approaches for establishing habitat in grass dominated sites, including opportunities to establish habitat in conjunction with the installation of saturated buffers and bioreactors.

“We can grow corn, soybeans, monarchs and improve water quality by stacking conservation and pest management practices,” said Bradbury, whose research and extension efforts address conservation, pest resistance management, and environmental risks and benefits of pesticide use. “Iowa’s monarch conservation and nutrient reduction goals are challenging; however, by integrating practices we can maximize our return on investment.”

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on September 16:

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

July 29 Webinar: Multiple On-Farm Improvements Provided by Prairie Strips

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, July 29 at noon about the benefits of integrating prairie strips into rowcrop operations.

Tim Youngquist, Farmer Liaison for the Science-Based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) team at Iowa State University, will describe ways that prairie strips can lead to on-farm improvements. “Prairie is an exciting, useful, beautiful tool that can help control erosion, filter water, and create habitat for a wide variety of native species,” said Youngquist. “It can be planted by any farmer or anyone who owns even a small amount of land.”

Youngquist assists farmers and landowners around the state in designing, installing, and maintaining prairie strips. He will give an update on the background of STRIPS, recent research results, and project updates. He will also cover frequently asked questions about prairie strips. Webinar attendees will gain an understanding of the disproportionate benefits that can be achieved through the planting of a small amount of prairie in a rowcrop field. Join us at noon on July 29 to learn more about prairie strips and have the opportunity to ask Youngquist questions about this conservation practice.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on July 29:

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 approved for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the credit will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

June 11 Virtual Field Day: Exploring the Bear Creek Saturated Buffer

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Conservation Learning Group, and Prairie Rivers of Iowa, is hosting a free virtual saturated buffer field day on Thursday, June 11 at 1pm CDT.  Join us as we explore the first-ever saturated buffer that was installed in 2010 within an existing riparian buffer along Bear Creek in Hamilton County.

Aerial shot of stream and seeded saturated buffer on the right, looking south along Bear Creek. Fall seeded prairie pictured in its first year of growth.

The event will include video footage from the field and live interaction with Tom Isenhart, Iowa State University Professor, Billy Beck, Iowa State University Assistant Professor and Extension Forestry Specialist and Dan Haug and David Stein of Prairie Rivers of Iowa. Together they will discuss how saturated buffers, riparian buffers and pollinator habitat work together to improve water quality, farm aesthetics, and wildlife opportunities.

Riparian buffers are a proven practice for removing nitrate from overland flow and shallow groundwater. However, in landscapes with artificial subsurface (tile) drainage, most of the subsurface flow leaving fields is passed through the buffers in drainage pipes, leaving little opportunity for nitrate removal. Isenhart, along with Dan Jaynes, Research Soil Scientist with the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment (USDA-ARS), pioneered the process of re-routing a fraction of field tile drainage as subsurface flow through a riparian buffer for increasing nitrate removal – creating the first ever saturated buffer that will be featured during this virtual field day.

Make plans to join us and participate in the live field day. Shortly before 1:00 pm CDT on June 11th, click HERE.

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

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

    Meeting ID: 914 1198 4892

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 on the Iowa Learning Farms Events page.

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

Can I add or improve a wetland on my farm?

To celebrate American Wetlands Month, I wanted to highlight how important they are here in Iowa and share how the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices manual can helps match your goals with the right edge of field practice – like wetlands! Several types of wetlands can be used in agricultural settings, depending on your objectives.

Wetlands are crucial to meeting our Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus losses. Beyond acting like a filter cleaning the water, these wetlands act like sponges absorbing and storing water aiding in both times of flooding and drought. Lastly these wetlands are incredible habitats to migratory and endangered species.

Considering improving and adding a wetland?

Some must-have pieces of information for determining if a wetland could be a suitable edge-of-field practice for the site include a soils map, profitability maps, and knowledge of relationships to district infrastructure if the site is in a drainage district. The decision tree below is a great place to start the planning process.

If the primary goal of a wetland is for water quality improvements, treatment wetlands help to remove nitrogen through conversion of nitrate-nitrogen to nitrogen gas by microbial activity and through plant uptake. Ideally, treatment wetlands should have a pool footprint greater than or equal to 1 percent of the watershed area to be treated. The topography of the site should allow for a drop in elevation from the tile outflow to the surface of the standing water in the wetland to prevent backflow of water into the tile drain system.

Additional land is needed to allow a diverse buffer of wetland vegetation to develop around the shallow water pool. If the wetland footprint is in an area that could experience high sediment flow, a sedimentation basin or other structure will need to be considered. It is also important that treatment wetlands remain fish-free to reduce sediment disturbance and prevent unwanted loss of sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen from the system.

If the primary goal is to provide additional wetland habitat, identifying low-profitability wet zones within the field can reveal locations that could be planted in perennial wetland vegetation.

Be sure to tune in to our upcoming events featuring wetlands:

-Liz (Juchems) Ripley

Exploring the Case for Retiring (Or at Least Down-Sizing) the Mower on Farms and City Lots

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about the benefits of reducing mowed land area across rural Iowa. Adam Janke, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist, discussed a project which considered the economic, ecological and aesthetic impacts of managing idle spaces differently.

Three different management scenarios were compared: traditional turfgrass, the “lazy lawnmower” and pollinator habitat establishment. In the traditional turfgrass management scenario, the space is planted to a monoculture and mowed weekly. In the “lazy lawnmower” scenario, mowing is done less frequently, about once every three weeks. Finally, in the pollinator habitat scenario, pollinator habitat is established in the area and managed to create a diverse source of nectar resources for pollinators.

The economic analysis of the three different management scenarios showed that both the “lazy lawnmower” and establishing pollinator habitat saved landowners money (and time, since their time was also valued in the analysis). Out of the three, the establishment of pollinator habitat had the lowest per acre cost per year. Janke also showed that, ecologically, there are no benefits to increased mowing.

Why maintain turfgrass when is is expensive and lacks environmental benefits? Literature on the subject acknowledges that this behavior might not be rational, but that it is part of our cultural norms. Worrying about what the neighbor might think of how you manage your land plays a big role in behavior. In order to increase adoption of different management scenarios for idle land, we need innovators who are trying out the practices and showing people that they can work.

Janke shared examples of three places that have adopted pollinator habitat instead of traditional turfgrass in idle areas. The image on the left shows a farmer who is a champion of monarch conservation who converted an idle area on his farm where to pollinator habitat. The middle image is from a farm that was part of a project with the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium who partnered with pork producers to convert idle areas outside of livestock barns. Check out this video to learn more about this project. The image on the right shows pollinator habitat on idle land at Workiva in Ames, shortly after it was burned this spring as part of the management of the area.

To learn more about the benefits of managing idle land for pollinator habitat, or at least reducing how frequently they’re mowed, watch the full webinar here!

Be sure to join us next week when Kay Stefanik, Assistant Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, will present a webinar titled: “Wetland Ecosystem Services: How Wetlands Can Benefit Iowans”.

Hilary Pierce

May 13 Webinar: Exploring the Case for Retiring (Or at Least Down-Sizing) the Mower on Farms and City Lots

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, May 13 at noon about the benefits of reducing mowed land area across rural Iowa.

Reducing the size of mowed areas in rural Iowa has many layered benefits for landowners and land. Adam Janke, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist, will compare the costs and environmental benefits of three management options for existing idle turf grass areas in rural landscapes. Changing management of these areas from turf monocultures to diverse native perennial plants, like those found in pollinator plantings, can improve water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat. Making the change from turf to native perennial plants will also save landowners money and time.

“Farm margins are exceptionally tight and the need for every available acre in Iowa to work for soil, water and wildlife is greater than ever,” said Janke. “This work will show how creating new habitat areas on a farm can help to improve conservation outcomes while also saving time and money for the landowners.”

Janke, who studies wildlife habitat relationships in working agricultural landscapes, hopes that participants will take away new perspectives and ideas for what they can do with idle areas that already exist on their farms and acreages.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm on May 13:

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

20 Tips for Increasing Wildlife Habitat in Iowa Over the Next Decade

Conservation Chat Header

We’re kicking off 2020 with the 50th episode of the Conservation Chat podcast! On this episode, host Jacqueline Comito challenged wildlife expert Dr. Adam Janke to come up with 20 things to do in the 2020s to increase wildlife habitat in Iowa. Janke is an assistant professor at Iowa State University and the Iowa State University Extension Wildlife Specialist. He is passionate about increasing wildlife populations in agricultural landscapes.

Janke’s Top 20 Tips:

20. Download iNaturalist or a similar app

19. Look for tracks in the snow

18. Learn to recognize 3 bird calls: the Dickcissel, Upland Sandpiper and Eastern Wood-Pewee

17. Learn to recognize rare wildlife

16. Learn your watershed address

15. Buy a duck stamp

14. Keep cats inside

13. Plant native plants

12. Be able to make a bouquet of flowers from your land from May 15 – Oct 1

11. Take the Master Conservationist Program

10. Volunteer and get involved

9. Sell the mower (or at least downsize)

8. Take kids to your favorite natural area often and talk to them about why its so important

7. Read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

6. Find opportunity areas of wildlife on your farm or land (check on Janke’s Iowa Learning Farms webinar to learn more!)

5.  Redefine your relationship to “weeds”

4. Read (or reread) A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

3. Run a “clean farm”, but broaden the definition of that to include protecting soil, making sure clean water is leaving your property, and supporting biodiversity and wildlife on the margins of productive land

2. Tell your story about why land stewardship matters to you

SONY DSC

Janke’s #1 tip is to embrace diversity in all of its forms: economically, biologically and socially. Doing so will allow for increased resiliency and will have wildlife benefits, as well as other benefits to soil health and water quality across our agricultural landscape. “We need diversity of thought and we need diversity of ideas to solve some of these really big challenges that we have, in terms of sustaining our land base, sustaining our rural communities and sustaining this enterprise that we all really value.” – Janke

To learn more about Janke’s tips for increasing wildlife habitat in Iowa over the next decade, listen to the full episode here or on iTunes!

Hilary Pierce