Reduction of Row Spacing When comparing 15” vs. 30” row spacing in soybeans, the narrower row spacing resulted in substantially greater weed suppression, due to earlier canopy closure.
Equipment Modifications Jha shared several equipment modifications and technologies currently being investigated for their ability to assist with weed suppression, including a chaff collection system to concentrate and capture the weed seeds at harvest …
… and a weed seed destruction unit, which directs the weed seeds through a high impact mill on the back of the combine, essentially crushing the weed seeds and leaving them non-viable.
Tune in to the full webinar to learn more about these different sustainable weed management solutions and the current research that’s underway! You’ll find this and many other excellent webinars archived on the ILF webinars page.
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!
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!
The heart and soul of the Iowa Learning Farms program has been our face-to-face outreach and education. Each year, we have traveled to every corner of Iowa and talked to as many farmers and local folks as we could. Whether it was a field day in Page County or a county fair in Floyd County, we show up to engage Iowans on the importance of conservation and water quality practices. In addition, the Water Rocks! program travels to at least 180 Iowa schools a year with a vibrant hands-on environmental youth education program.
In any given year, we make face-to-face contact with some 36,500 people across Iowa: 1,100 field day attendees, 5,500 visitors to the Conservation Stations and 30,000 young people! That is a lot of social contact.
Since March 17 when ISU sent us all home and took us off the road, we have been asking ourselves how we take outreach programs that rely on connection and in-person engagement and put them online? The first couple of weeks of working from home were disorienting—we were trying to find our rhythm and perhaps even our purpose.
We have a lot of online content and so there were a couple of things we scaled up immediately. We increased the frequency of our highly successful and interactive ILF webinar series from monthly to weekly. We have seen participation in the webinars increase every week. Thanks to everyone who has agreed to present on short notice!
For Water Rocks!, we already have a rich cache of online environmental educational materials, so we increased our monthly E-News to weekly so that teachers would know what is available to students and parents for home education. Again, we saw a significant increase in the number of subscribers and open rates the E-News received.
Both of those initiatives were good first steps, but we knew we would need to do more. We also knew if we didn’t come up with new activities, we would run out of things for team members to do and layoffs could be possible. It is difficult to be creative in the middle of a pandemic, but also extremely important to be creative.
For Iowa Learning Farms, we are giving our hand to virtual field days. We worried about all the things that could go wrong trying to livestream a Zoom meeting from a farm field: internet connections and technological mishaps were very likely. We have opted for a hybrid—we are taping the field component at an earlier date and playing the video during the live virtual field day.
I am grateful that Mark Licht and Alison Robertson readily agreed to host our first ILF virtual field day, happening tomorrow, April 16. This was our opportunity to work out the mistakes before heading to our farmer partners’ fields. Taping went well and being out in the sun away from our desks felt terrific. When I got back to my computer to edit the material, I learned that we had some technical difficulties with the sound on Alison’s field portion, so I had to cut most of the sound and she will just explain what you are seeing live during the event on Thursday.
I have since gotten the connector cables I need to ensure higher quality sound while taping with my iPhone for future events. ILF farmer partner Wade Dooley has volunteered to host our next field day on April 24 and I look forward to being on his farm next week to tape. During taping, we are using every social distancing precaution, including driving to field sites in separate vehicles. We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the willingness of our partners and team members to try something different.
During the live event, we will encourage folks to use their audio to ask questions and participate in discussions with the field day presenters. The Zoom system is designed so that only one speaker can be speaking at a time, so we will see how that goes. These virtual field days will be works in progress. They won’t be perfect, but we can’t let the perfect get in the way of connecting with each other. We will learn as we go. In this way, it won’t be so different from what it has always been with the Iowa Learning Farms program. Like any other field day, we will conduct evaluation. Over time, we will have lots of opportunities for improvement. Improve we must, because for now, virtual field days are all that we have.
No one knows when it will be safe to gather in larger groups again. I know I speak for my whole team when I say that we miss encountering all of you on your farms, in your schools and at your community events. We look forward to the day when we can be with you in person and back on the road again. Until that time, join us online and we will do our best to deliver the quality outreach and education you have grown to expect from us!
If you want to catch a field day or webinar you missed, they are archived on our website.
Matt Helmers | ISU Professor in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and Director of Iowa Nutrient Research Center
Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend two events that have left a distinct impression—what really struck me is the creativity and passion for conservation and sustaining rural communities. The first was the Iowa Learning Farms Leadership Circle that brought together farmers and landowners from all corners of the state. The second was the Michigan Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society Annual meeting. The farmers and landowners that participated in these conservation-focused events are not only willing to try new things to protect their land, but also, just as importantly, they are willing to share their message and help others. In some cases, this included speaking out that some of the land management practices they see are concerning. While there are many cases where positive action is occurring, we also have to be willing to acknowledge where improvements are needed and can be made.
An example of creativity was a farmer from Ontario that shared information on grazing cover crops and finding substantial value of these as a forage source. He has started to work with an adjacent farmer to reduce tillage to be able to implement cover crops on his land. The farmer with the land where the cover crops are now being planted gets benefits of the nutrients from the cattle as they are grazing the cover crops.
Farmers’ and landowners’ passion for their rural communities and building of these communities for the long-term is a theme that clearly emerged. Particularly impactful in the Iowa Learning Farms meeting was the strong desire of younger farmers to see an increase in peers within their rural communities. While they value the rural lifestyle, they also desire more neighbors. There’s a genuine passion for what they are doing and desire to see others have the opportunity to be a part of it in the future.
In both meetings there was also substantial discussion about changing climate and adapting to smaller field work windows. This is something we all need to think about and reflect upon with increasing weather variability. We have certainly seen the last couple fall and spring periods present challenges to completing field work in a timely fashion.
To me this brings up whether we can use these challenges as opportunities to try something different to perhaps reduce the number of days needed for field work. One potential way to do this is reducing tillage passes. As I drive around the Iowa landscape, I see a smaller percentage of corn stalks that have been tilled than many previous years. If these acres are going to soybeans in 2020, is there an opportunity to try no-till soybeans on some of these acres? This would reduce labor needs for tillage, fuel consumption, and time. Research has shown excellent response of soybeans even in a no-till environment.
As I reflect on these conversations I have heard, I am reminded of the tremendous creativity of so many of the farmers I have the pleasure to get to interact with. Can we use this creativity in challenging times to ensure we improve on protecting our soil and water resources?
How do we maintain productive, profitable farms in Iowa that protect soil resources, support biodiversity, and send cleaner water downstream? Tune in to the December Iowa Learning Farms webinar to learn more about these challenges and opportunities from Dr. Adam Janke. Janke serves as Assistant Professor in Natural Resources Ecology and Management and Extension Wildlife Specialist at Iowa State University.
Many wildlife species in Iowa have exhibited consistent population declines over recent decades. However, contrary to popular belief, these population declines are not due to the expansion of agricultural land. Farmed acres in Iowa have actually declined when compared to the 1930s.
However, what has changed dramatically is the intensification and homogenization of agricultural production. Comparing the 1930s to now, the diversity of cropping systems has dramatically decreased, hedgerows and weedy areas have all but disappeared, and there has been a clear trend towards uniformity on the landscape. Put simply, all of this points to fewer places for wildlife to live.
While much recent attention has been focused on water quality-related conservation practices that align with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Janke emphasizes that many of these conservation practices also offer great benefits to farmland wildlife.
Janke points out, “Changes in land use intended to address water quality can also address wildlife concerns in Iowa’s Wildlife Action Plan.” (Did you know that Iowa has over 400 species identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need?!)
In order for farmland wildlife to thrive, Janke emphasizes three big needs:
Native diversity: Wildlife favor native plants over non-natives, and there is a particular benefit to having diverse vegetation providing food resources over the course of the season.
Natural features: Natural features like herbaceous vegetation and shallow, pooled water provide important food resources and habitat for wildlife.
Size/connectivity: In order to make meaningful gains, wildlife need adjacent or near-adjacent, connected parcels of land that provide quality habitat.
Riparian buffers, wetlands, and strategic integration of prairie into row crop productions can make a huge difference for wildlife! Watch the full webinar here to learn more about studies that Janke and colleagues have conducted tracking farmland wildlife here in Iowa, along with additional insight into the relationships and synergies between water, soil, and wildlife stewardship.
P.S. Stay tuned for further information about next month’s Iowa Learning Farms webinar (date TBA). We look forward to kicking things off with a joint webinar-podcast featuring a conversation with Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.
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.
Director, Iowa Learning Farms
Jacqueline Comito joined Iowa Learning Farms in April 2005, soon after it was formed, and has been a key leader and contributor to the program ever since. She brings a strong background in social science that influenced the development and growth of the program’s highly successful evaluation and feedback initiatives.
As Director of ILF, how do you see your role with the organization? As ILF has grown over the past 15 years, my roles and responsibilities have changed, but fundamentally, I like to think the most important part of my job is to help ensure the organization stays true to what has made us successful—an emphasis on farmer-to-farmer outreach to put information and best practices in front of those that can make the best use of them.
Sometimes I’m a cheerleader and coach, other times I facilitate brainstorming and conversations among team members to continue to develop and expand the vision for ILF. I want to make sure we are effectively and efficiently reaching as many farmers as we can. As an organization we need to continue to grow and improve how we support farmer conservation implementation. This is where a robust evaluation program really helps; it provides a positive feedback loop that fosters ideas and energy for our efforts to help build a Culture of Conservation in tangible ways.
Evaluation and feedback are priorities for ILF. How do you see this part of the program evolving in the years ahead? Evaluation is an organic thing. It must come out of what you are doing with programming. If it’s an integral part of the planning process, programming and evaluation are seamless elements that support each other. For example, when we were building our recently launched Emerging Farmers program, we included evaluation and feedback in the mix from the beginning. We used these tools to fine-tune the program to the unanticipated and evolving needs of participants. This approach helps us deliver more value to our participants more quickly.
How important is youth outreach—such as the Water Rocks! program—to Iowa making progress on conservation, water quality improvement and the nutrient reduction goals for Iowa? It’s incredibly important! With youth we are playing the long game. We are planting seeds with these young people about conservation, water quality, and what they can do individually to have an impact. When they become decision-making adults, our hope is that they will have a solid framework and environmental ethic that puts natural resources challenges and solutions in the forefront of their thoughts and actions.
In addressing today’s youth, we are speaking with the future scientists and inventors. Not only are we providing education, we feel as though we are modeling career opportunities in science and research.
If you had to choose two, what are the most impactful achievements or lessons-learned from the first 15 years of ILF, and how do they inform the path going forward? Field days. We’ve developed an excellent process for organizing, promoting, and operating field days that works for everyone involved, and takes a lot of pressure off the host farmer or organization. Field day programs are crucial to facilitating farmer-to-farmer conversations.
The Conservation Station trailers have also been a significant achievement for ILF. Designing and redesigning these mobile classrooms across the years have kept materials fresh, enabled us to respond to feedback, and drawn audiences to learn about conservation, farming practices and water quality. Utilizing the trailers at county fairs, farmers markets and community gatherings, we’ve been incredibly successful in taking the conservation message to the public.
How do you see the next five years of ILF evolving? ILF will continue to be a strong voice providing education and advocacy for conservation practices at venues from field days to classroom programs. There is no end in sight for the need to continually reinforce the challenges facing Iowa and provide information and education through outreach programs such as ILF.
What are your fondest memories of working with ILF? The relationships I’ve formed with colleagues and people throughout the state are very special to me. I’ve particularly enjoyed getting to know many farmers and learning about farming processes, challenges and their conservation efforts. Even if there are long periods between meetings, when I do get a chance to see them it’s like seeing an old friend. Relationships and community are essential to the success of ILF, and we are striving to make the most of advocates across Iowa to help build a Culture of Conservation that will benefit all.
If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?
My hope for the future of Iowa includes a substantial increase in the number of wetlands. I would love to be a part of finding a solution and resources to make a reality of the goal to take three-to-four percent of cropland out of production and return it to prairie and wetlands. We would also like to build a fourth Conservation Station trailer with an emphasis on wetlands education.
Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series:
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.
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.
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:
Hello everyone! My name is Megan and I am so excited to be the new Assistant Music and Outreach Specialist at Iowa State University. I will mainly be working with the Water Rocks! program as well as, on occasion, Iowa Learning Farms.
I recently graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a BA in Theatre-Cum Laude, with a performance focus. I also attended Des Moines Area Community College for two years to take several of my general education classes. While studying at DMACC, I was lucky enough to take a semester abroad and live in London, England and take classes at the University of London. Although I have been blessed to travel all over, I grew up in Ames, Iowa and it will always be my home.
Over the years, with my background being in liberal arts, I have many eclectic passions and one of them is educating people about one of my favorite eras in history. For the past 6 years, I have been part of a Renaissance Royal Court troupe that travels around the Midwest to give educational programs on the Renaissance time period. The programs range from court life, to weaponry, and basic history of that time period. Most of our shows audience ranges from children to adults.
When I am not rocking it out with Water Rocks!, I pursue several of my other passions. One of them is performing on stage with ACTORS Inc., the Ames Community Theatre, reading one of the several novels that I own, singing around my apartment, playing piano, watching movies, or hanging out with family and friends.
On Wednesday, Jacqueline Comito discussed the evolution of Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) over the past 15 years in an Iowa Learning Farms webinar. She talked about how ILF is doing in achieving its mission of creating a “Culture of Conservation”, shared some results on conservation practice adoption and described some of the new goals and challenges that the future holds. Has ILF been successful in building a Culture of Conservation? Yes, in short, but there is still a lot of work to do!
“To build a Culture of Conservation means that conservation will be at the heart of everything we do,” said Comito. Over the years ILF has used field days to help develop this culture and has figured out what methods work to make field days successful. Through evaluation and observation, ILF wrote the book on how to host a successful field day and hopes that this method will be widely adopted by those who host their own field days.
ILF has reached many people through its field days over the years, as can be seen in the above graphic, which doesn’t include 2019 field days/workshops. One key component of ILF field days is the evaluation done, which has allowed ILF to compile years of useful data, including tracking practice adoption. The graphic below shows where the adoption of some conservation practices fall in the “Diffusion of Innovation” model developed by E.M. Rogers. According to ILF estimates, cover crop usage is in the “early adopters” category, with no-till/strip till already reaching in to the “early majority”. Newer edge-of-field practices like bioreactors and saturated buffers haven’t yet made it off the starting line.
Join us next month, on Wednesday, September 18 at noon, when Emily Heaton, Associate Professor at Iowa State University, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “Integrating Perennials into Underperforming Parts of Fields Could Improve the Farm Economy, Water Quality, and Bioenergy Feedstock Production”.