The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Measurement Project: Tracking Progress Towards Iowa’s Water Quality Goals

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Today at noon, Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, discussed the progress and challenges of Iowa’s water quality improvement efforts.

Nowatzke_photo thumbnailThe webinar covered how progress towards the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) is measured, how much progress has been made and what challenges remain. The NRS is a science-based strategy to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources. Nowatzke shared a brief history of the measurement tracking associated with the NRS and then discussed the recently published 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report.

She explained how the NRS uses a logic model framework to track quantifiable change in inputs, the human dimension, land use and water quality. The 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report shows an increase in funding for conservation practices and programs, mostly due to an increase in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) rental payments. It also shows an increase in outreach and education events. Farmer attitudes towards and awareness of the conservation efforts is being measured through a five year survey. Summaries of the survey results for two HUC6 watersheds are available in the report.

INRS Logic Model

Image from the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy: 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report

Nowatzke also described how conservation practices are tracked, including the tracking of CRP land retirement, cover crop use, and the installation of bioreactors and saturated buffers. Water quality progress is assessed using a two-pronged approach of measuring nutrient concentrations in surface waters and modeling nutrient loss reductions that are associated with different conservation practices.

To learn more about how progress towards meeting the NRS goals is measured, how much progress has been made and the challenges that remain, watch the recorded webinar!

Join us next month, on Wednesday, August 21 at noon, when Jacqueline Comito, Iowa Learning Farms Program Director, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “15 Years of Iowa Learning Farms”.

Hilary Pierce

July 17 Webinar: The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Measurement Project: Tracking Progress Towards Iowa’s Water Quality Goals

Join us on Wednesday, July 17 at noon, when Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar about the progress towards Iowa’s water quality goals.

Nowatzke_photo thumbnailHow many acres of cover crops are planted each year in Iowa? Are extended rotations and perennials increasing? Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, will discuss the progress and challenges of Iowa’s water quality improvement efforts by addressing these questions and others. Find out how progress is measured, where to find the data, and what questions remain about Iowa’s water quality improvement.

“Water quality challenges are on the minds of many Iowans. In this webinar, I hope to shed light on where we’re currently seeing progress in conservation practice adoption and where there are still challenges,” said Nowatzke. She hopes that webinar attendees will understand how conservation practice adoption in Iowa is tracked, the “bright spots” and challenges of water quality progress, and where to find data and information about Iowa’s water quality improvement efforts.

A Certified Crop Adviser board approved continuing education unit (CEU) is available for those who are able to watch the live webinar. Information for submitting your CCA/CPAg/CPSS/CPSC number to earn the credit will be provided at the end of the presentation.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, July 17, 2019
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars and click the link to join the webinar

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:
https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Hilary Pierce

A Conservation Chat with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson and Jennifer Terry

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On the latest episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito discussed the Iowa Environmental Council with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson and Jennifer Terry. Gronstal Anderson is the new Water Program Director for the Iowa Environmental Council and Terry is the Executive Director and they chatted about how the Iowa Environmental Council is striving toward cleaner water for all Iowans to enjoy.

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Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

Gronstal Anderson and Terry talked about how the Iowa Environmental Council is a watchdog that holds government agencies accountable on behalf of Iowans. That accountability is important when it comes to natural resources because of the relationship between natural resources and public health, such as in the case of regulations for drinking water quality. They stated the importance of working with partners from diverse sectors at the Council.

The talk then turned to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the Clean Water Act.

“We also would like to see the Clean Water Act adhered to more stringently here in Iowa. In terms of using our beaches and protecting drinking water sources and our lakes, its imperative that we have better enforcement in Iowa of the Clean Water Act.” – Terry 

Jennifer Terry

Jennifer Terry, photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

They discussed the importance of showing progress toward our water quality goals and the struggle against the lack of urgency that many feel regarding adoption of conservation practices. Although anti-regulation sentiment is common, Gronstal Anderson and Terry talked about how not only would jobs and industries follow regulation, but that it would help to provide a level playing field for farmers across the state.

To hear the rest of the chat and learn more about the work the Iowa Environmental Council does, listen to the podcast here!

Hilary Pierce

Bioreactor Installation a Success

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The rain didn’t dampen the excitement of a new bioreactor being installed near Albert City last night. Olie and Lois Leimer were pleased to share their newest conservation practice on their farm with fellow farmers, landowners and contractors at our field day.

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Lois and Olie Leimer discussing their new bioreactor being installed behind them with Lee Gravel, Headwaters of the North Raccoon Watershed Coordinator.

The Leimers are long time implementers of conservation practices. They began using no-till many years ago in an effort to save on fuel and time. They have also added cover crops to their farm to reduce soil erosion and improve soil health and water quality.

“It’s a work in progress. We’re always looking for ways to improve our farm and our impact on water quality,” state Olie.

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Field day attendees were able to check out the bioreactor site and hear from Brian Heinsohn, owner of Heinsohn Digging & Tiling, who led the contractor installation team.

Leimer approached the local Natural Resources Conservation Service about two years ago to begin the process of installing the bioreactor.  Together with Lee Gravel, Headwaters of the North Raccoon Watershed Coordinator, and ISG in Storm Lake to design and construct the bioreactor, the finished edge of field practice will treat about 80 acres of drained row crop acres.

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Nearly completed bioreactor.

The actual installation process goes fairly quickly. The trench and control structures were installed on Monday and by Tuesday afternoon the woodchips were delivered. They would have finished on Tuesday, but the area was left open so attendees could view the trench and woodchips. In total there is about 3.5 feet of woodchips that will be covered by about one foot of soil. Once the soil is in place, a pollinator habitat mix will be seeded over the bioreactor.

The bioreactor will be monitored for how nitrate removal throughout the upcoming years as partners work to meet the goals of the Iowa Nutrient reduction strategy. If you are interested in installing a bioreactor on your farm you can contact Iowa Learning Farms or your local NRCS office.

Be sure to check out upcoming field days in your area by visit our events page!

Liz Juchems

Cover Crop Acres Increase but Rate of Growth Declines in 2018

ILFHeader(15-year)According to the Iowa Learning Farms 15-year Evaluation data, Iowa cover crop acres grew last year by approximately 16 percent resulting in approximately 880,000 total acres. While the positive growth at a time when farmers are reporting shrinking profit margins is notable, this represents a six percent decline in new cover crop acres compared to last year’s estimate and a 19 percent cumulative decline since 2015. A year in which 35 percent of all the cover crop acres were new. This number is still well below the goal of 12.5 million acres of cover crops called for in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Since 2009, Iowa Learning Farms, based at IMG_1800Iowa State University, has been tracking cover crop data reported by farmers and landowners who attend an ILF workshop and field day. In addition, in recognition of its 15-year anniversary, ILF conducted a mailed survey of all farmers and landowners that had participated in field days since 2005. Eight hundred ninety-nine people responded to the survey reporting 131,389 acres of cover crops on their land or 15 percent of the overall estimated cover crop acres in Iowa.

Many of the new acres were planted by experienced cover crop farmers. The majority (85 percent) of respondents to Iowa Learning Farms’ 15-year evaluation questionnaire started seeding cover crops at least three years ago. Only six percent of respondents reported implementing cover crops for the first time on their land last fall. Those respondents with cover crops reported an average of 44 percent of their total row crop acres in cover crops, representing a consistent value over the last three years.

“It is encouraging to see growth in cover crop use among experienced cover crop farmers, even with low crop prices and a fall with less than ideal weather,” commented Jamie Benning, Iowa State University Extension water quality program manager and Iowa Learning Farms adviser. “I am concerned that the rate of growth has declined for the third year in a row and that the number of first-time cover crop users declined significantly this year. For this reason, ILF is already ramping us this spring with cover crop events to reach new farmers.”

All of the respondents who planted cover crops for the first time in 2018 used cost share and planted an average of 100 acres, higher than last year’s average of 89 acres. Overall, 66 percent of the total reported cover crop acres were planted with cost share, while 78 percent of the new acres were planted with cost share.

Iowa Learning Farms has held 265 conservation field days and workshops since 2005 on cover crops, strip-tillage, saturated buffers, prairie strips and more. These events drew an attendance of 13,621 people—72 percent are farmers and landowners. Cover crop field days in 2019 will stress the benefits and best practice management for implementing cover crops.

ILF continues to work with ISU Extension and other partner organizations throughout Iowa to raise awareness of beneficial conservation practices such as cover crops among landowners and farmers. The complete 15-year Iowa Learning Farms report will be released in early April 2019, and will be found at www.iowalearningfarms.org.

Liz Juchems

Conservation Chat Podcast Returns!

Water quality takes center stage in the Conservation Chat podcast’s long-awaited return!  The Chat debuts its new format, featuring multiple guests on the program together for a roundtable-type discussion. In the newest episode, Improving Water Quality, host Jacqueline Comito visits with two rockstars on Iowa State University’s water quality scene, Matt Helmers and Jamie Benning.

Tune in to this latest episode for an engaging discussion on timely topics related to water quality and agricultural production here in the state of Iowa, centered around the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Having been released five-plus years ago, Comito, Helmers, and Benning discuss the progress made thus far, but also the immense scale of implementation needed to achieve tangible progress in terms of nutrient reduction and improved water quality. Tune in as they bounce ideas about the interwoven relationships between dollars spent, practices implemented, nutrients reduced, policy structure, and progress towards true paradigm shift.

In addition, Helmers and Benning both emphasize the importance of translating pure scientific research to more accessible, digestible outreach materials for general public consumption through such means as short videos, webinars, field days, and infographics. Helmers shares a great anecdote about the power of video to reach broad audiences around the world – he is currently hosting a student intern from Honduras, and this student had recently seen the Iowa Learning Farms’ Rainfall Simulator video in one of her engineering classes back at her home institution!

Tune in to Episode 40 of the Conservation Chat to hear the full interview with Matt Helmers and Jamie Benning. You can also download or listen to any of the previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and through iTunes.

Ann Staudt

A Conservation Chat with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig

ILFHeader(15-year)Jacqueline Comito| Iowa Learning Farms Program Director

naig_comito_frame_webIowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig joined me for a live Conservation Chat as a part of the monthly Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) webinar on January 16. Secretary Naig was elected to office in November 2018, but has been in the role since spring of 2018 when he was appointed to fill the post when Bill Northey was confirmed as the U.S. undersecretary for farm production and conservation.

Mike joined the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship five years ago as deputy secretary. He noted that the opportunity to get involved in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy from inception was one of the key reasons he moved from the private sector into government.

Mike grew up on a farm in Palo Alto county during the 1980s and saw the farm crisis firsthand. His parents and other farmers of their generation encouraged their children to find careers off the farm – so they would not have to experience the same challenges later in life. Mike took these sentiments to heart and continues to work to help ensure farmers in Iowa have the resources and opportunities to build successful and sustainable businesses.

When asked about his connection to the land, he expressed delight in the broad diversity of landscapes and natural settings across Iowa. He and his family love to explore the outdoors and enjoy everything Iowa has to offer. It also provides an opportunity to teach his three young sons about the importance of our natural resources and conservation.

Mike made it clear that it was time to significantly scale up implementation of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. He noted “We are five years into implementation of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished, but if we only do the same for the next five years, we will be seriously behind. This is the time to start scaling successful approaches so we can protect, preserve, and promote Iowa’s productivity and its most abundant natural resource – Texas has oil, Iowa has soil.”

We talked about urban and rural mindsets and how to bridge the understanding gap. “Pointing fingers and assigning blame does not move anyone in the right direction. Fostering mutual understanding of the impact any individual can have, regardless of whether they own a quarter acre lot in Ames or a quarter-section plot in northwest Iowa, is crucial to building a culture of conservation statewide.”

With new funding in the current budget year, the Department of Agriculture has hired additional employees to address conservation practices in several major watershed areas. They are also working with private-sector organizations and partners to expand conservation efforts, outreach and education. Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! are examples of partners in conservation and education that help deliver these messages. “We partner and contract with organizations such as Iowa State University to take advantage of the innovation, skilled minds, and advanced research that isn’t available elsewhere. The allow us to do the most with what we have and continue to move toward our goals.”

Mike stressed that farmers needed to look at conservation practices with a broad lens. “You can’t just look at cover crops or tiling or bioreactors and saturated buffers as individual things, you must look at the full scope of improving soil health, employing edge of field practices in combination with tile, and ultimately maintaining or improving productivity and water quality.”

I noted that he had appropriated ILF’s Culture of Conservation tagline during his campaign and asked what that means to him. “It means thinking about conservation as priority. If Iowa wants to continue to be a global production leader, it’s crucial to protect and conserve what makes that leadership possible. And to do it through conservation, not regulation.” Mike agreed that youth education is an important piece of the culture of conservation puzzle, and changing the mindset and approach in Iowa will take a long time and must become inherent to the thinking of current and future generations. “You’re not going to reach everyone right away, just like in marketing any idea or product, there will be early adopters through late adopters. Our challenge is to build out a message to entice and encourage adoption of a lasting change over time.”

More Conservation Chats

Be sure to view the archive visit with Mike Naig on our website.

Our conversation will also be released as a Conservation Chat podcast available at the Conservation Chat website and here on iTunes. New Conservation Chat podcasts will be released every month. February’s Chat will be a conversation with Dr. Matt Helmers, Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and Jamie Benning, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach water quality program manager.

Please join us live for next Iowa Learning Farms Webinar February 20 at 12:00 PM with Dr. Amy Kaleita, Iowa State University professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. The topic will be: Farmed Prairie Potholes – Consequences and Management Options.

Jacqueline