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

Trees, Forests, and Forestry: Benefits to Water Quality and On-Farm Income in Iowa

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about forestry in Iowa and the importance of including trees in Iowa’s water quality conversation.

Billy Beck, Assistant Professor and Extension Forestry Specialist at Iowa State University, discussed the importance of seeing trees as a valuable resource, for farmers and landowners where they can be an asset and a source of on-farm income and provide profit, and for all Iowans because of the benefits to water quality and flood reduction that trees can provide.

Iowa has:

  • ~3 million acres of forest
  • 150,000 forest landowners
  • $10-35 million of standing timber sold annually
  • 30,000 jobs supported by forestry/forest products
  • $43 billion economic output from forestry/forest products
  • Highest quality white oak & black walnut on Earth (arguably)
  • ISU has one of the oldest forestry programs in the US
  • >30% of riparian corridors are forested

Beck explained that trees can improve water quality and can reduce water quantity reaching streams during rainfall events, which can positively impact flooding. Trees can take up nutrients, slow water through interception and infiltration, and can help stabilize streambanks, which all have positive impacts on downstream water quality and water quantity.

When discussing on-farm income from trees, Beck stated that it is important to know the true value of your timber, which can be very difficult to know! There isn’t a readily available source to find out this information and it could depend on: buyer/logger outlets, species assemblage, quality/grade of logs, site access or terrain, markets, politics, tariffs, etc.

To learn more about trees and forestry in Iowa, and its benefits to on-farm income and water quality and quantity, watch the full webinar here!

Be sure to join us next week on Wednesday, April 29th, when Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, will discuss “Iowa’s Water Quality Challenge: Efforts and Progress in Reducing Agricultural Nitrogen and Phosphorus Loss”.

Hilary Pierce

April 22 Webinar: Trees, Forests, and Forestry: Benefits to Water Quality and On-Farm Income in Iowa

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, April 22 at noon about the importance of including trees in Iowa’s water quality conversation.

Billy Beck, Assistant Professor and Extension Forestry Specialist at Iowa State University, will discuss the benefits that trees, forests, and forestry provide for both water quality and on-farm income, as well as resources and techniques landowners may utilize to achieve successful on-the-ground projects.

“Trees represent powerful resources that are often underutilized and undervalued by agricultural landowners,” said Beck, whose research and extension programming focuses on the impacts that trees, woodlands, and forests have on water quality and quantity in the Midwest.

This webinar will also present results from the recent “Forests and Water Quality Summit”—including a vision for the role of forestry in Iowa’s water quality efforts.

Don’t miss this webinar!

DATE: Wednesday, April 22, 2020

TIME: 12:00 pm

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: shortly before 12:00 pm on April 22nd:

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 CEU (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Water Rocks! Earth Week Art Challenges

Wednesday, April 22nd is Earth Day! Water Rocks! has partnered with the Iowa Environmental Council, Soil and Water Conservation Society and Artworks Studio of Carroll, Iowa, to encourage participants of all ages to get outside (at a safe distance from one another) and celebrate natural resources with us through art!

Our Earth Week Chalk Challenge is meant to inspire people to create chalk masterpieces with messages about the earth, biodiversity and our shared environment. (If you don’t have chalk at home, check out this link to make your own!)

The Earth Week Art from Nature Challenge encourages participants to gather items from nature to create unique artworks.

These contests run until 5 pm Friday, April 24th. Get outside and show off your love for our planet and its natural resources, as well as your creativity!

Like or follow @WaterRocksISU on Facebook or Twitter to enter your art and see all of the other creations!

Fun and novel prizes from Water Rocks! and Artworks Studio will be awarded to creations garnering the most likes and shares in both challenges, including a special “People’s Choice” prize pack and bragging rights for the most shared and most liked entry in each contest.

Water Rocks! Amps Up Online Environmental Learning Fun

Water Rocks! is expanding its online portfolio of environmental and water quality education programming with the addition of two streaming video programs. Water Rocks! Unplugged is a weekly studio session featuring Water Rocks! music and associated lessons. Water Rocks! Out of the Box is a series of short natural resources lessons with at-home activities. Both programs leverage the strong science education content typically delivered through the Water Rocks! classroom visits and assemblies which have been put on hold this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The unprecedented closure of schools across Iowa led us to brainstorm some new ways to use technology and remote learning to continue delivering our natural resources and water quality content and lessons to youth around Iowa,” said Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! director. “Our enewsletter, The Monday Mix, has been well received, and these new streaming options will give teachers, parents, and kids some new options to have fun while learning—all while keeping natural resources, water quality, and the environment around us at the forefront. We are eager to provide resources and support teachers and parents who are facing incredible challenges.”

Water Rocks! Unplugged features Water Rocks! music frontman Todd Stevens, performing acoustic versions of hit songs from the Water Rocks! catalog. Each performance is accompanied by a quick lesson highlighting the key science elements related to the song. New videos will drop on Facebook and YouTube every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m. CDT – beginning TODAY, April 14!

Water Rocks! Out of the Box is a series of virtual video lessons featuring student intern Emma Flemming, sharing fun, hands-on, at-home adaptations of classroom lessons and interactive activities from the Water Rocks! classroom visit program. Each lesson runs 5-10 minutes, and a new video will drop on Facebook and YouTube every Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. CDT – beginning TOMORROW, April 15!

Aligned with the new normal of working from home and learning from home, these video projects are being recorded and produced in the performer’s homes.

“Flexibility and innovation are watchwords right now, and Emma and Todd have both come through with creative ideas, effort and content for today’s youth,” continued Staudt. “Emma has shown great ingenuity in adapting the Water Rocks! activities for at-home use. Building on her experience visiting classrooms in our Water Resources Internship Program last summer—she’s truly driving the Out of the Box project. We are excited to launch both of these new video series.”

As Iowa schools implement online programs at all grade levels, the Water Rocks! online resources and online learning modules provide science-based content that is easy to use. All Water Rocks! programming is correlated to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) adopted by most Iowa school districts. Teacher, parent and student links to music, videos, games and educational resources are available free of charge at www.waterrocks.org

Be the first on your block to catch the new videos Tuesday through Friday each week at 1 p.m.! Just follow these links to Water Rocks!’ social media pages:
https://www.facebook.com/WaterRocksISU
https://www.youtube.com/user/WaterRocksISU

April 15 Webinar: Finding Mutual Opportunities for Soil, Water, and Wildlife by Redefining the Field Edge

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, April 15 at noon.

This presentation will explore the promise and opportunities for taking unprofitable areas out of production and converting them to native perennial vegetation. Adam Janke, an Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist at Iowa State University (ISU), will explore where these areas are found in crop fields, what to do with them once they’re found, and how water and wildlife can benefit from this conservation practice. Janke studies wildlife habitat relationships in working landscapes, with a specific focus on how wildlife use water quality conservation practices.

A large team of ISU educators have been working on this interdisciplinary project to describe the benefits of redefining the field edge. There are promising outcomes for farmers when profit loss areas are taken out of production and instead situated to grow soil and wildlife and provide clean surface waters. “I hope that participants will see the opportunity for redefining the field edge on their own farms, or farms they have influence over, and take the practice there and try it out,” said Janke when asked what he hoped webinar attendees would take away from his presentation.

Don’t miss this webinar!

DATE: Wednesday, April 15, 2020

TIME: 12:00 pm

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: shortly before 12:00 pm on April 15th:

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

Hilary Pierce

Carbonate, the Other Soil Carbon

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about research on calcium carbonate and the potential for carbon storage in Iowa’s soils.

Mark Rasmussen, Director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, described how calcium carbonate is formed and shared information about its distribution. Regarding the research into carbonate nodules in soil, Rasmussen explained, “We are interested in these nodules because carbonate minerals form one of the largest reservoirs of carbon on the planet and these minerals play a significant role in the long-term balance between atmospheric carbon and climate.”

A slide from the webinar, detailing estimates of carbon amounts from Monger et al., Geology, 2015

Some of the research questions being posed are:

  • How are carbonate nodules formed?
  • How much carbon in a given soil profile exists as carbonate nodules?
  • How old are these carbonate nodules?
Carbonate nodules

Rasmussen said that the group hopes to carry out research this summer at the Iowa State University Western Research Farm, where they will collect soil samples in different areas and at different depths, and then measure the carbonate. They plan to study the effect of intensive row cropping on carbonate reserves, hypothesizing that, because intense row cropping and fertilizer use slowly acidifies soil, there will be less carbonate reserve in these intensely row cropped areas compared to others.

Watch the full webinar here! We also have many other great archived webinars available here: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Join us next week, at noon on April 1, when I will be presenting on my MS thesis research: “The Effect of Stream Channel Incision on Groundwater Depth in Riparian Corridors”.

Hilary Pierce