Dig a little, learn a lot!

ILFHeaderAt our field day yesterday with Lake Geode Watershed, hosted by Southeastern Community College, we explored what is happening beneath the surface in a no-till, cover crop system. As a system, these practices provide many benefits including: increases in water infiltration, earthworm population, organic matter, water storage – all while decreasing soil erosion, nutrient losses as well as time and fuel not spent on tillage!

Here are a few highlights from the field day:

“One of your best tools as a farmer or landowner is your shovel,” stated Jason Steele Area Resource Soil Scientist for USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Use it to take a look at your soil. Are there earthworms? Is there compaction? Cover crops added to no-till can help feed the worms and break up that compaction”

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Thom Miller, Henry County Farmer – 
“My no-till system is working better now than when I started. I credit that to the combination of no-till and cover crops working together and over the last five years the results have been amazing.”

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“I have a tile system that ran nearly all summer due to improved infiltration and soil health through my no-till, cover crop and cattle grazing system.”

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“I plant shorter season corn and soybeans since I have them custom planted and harvested. A benefit of choosing those varieties means I can get my cover crop seeded earlier and take advantage of the early fall weather to make sure I get a good stand.”

We have seven more field days coming up this month! Visit our events page to find one near you and RSVP today!

Liz Juchems

Register to Attend 2018 Conservation Tillage Conference in Fargo!

strip-till-jodiUniversity of Minnesota Extension and North Dakota State University Extension Service are co-hosting the 2018 Conservation Tillage Conference on Dec. 18-19 in Fargo, ND at the Hilton Garden Inn Conference Center.

Roll up your sleeves for some practical, hands-on information that will save you soil, time, fuel, and money. This conference emphasizes proven farmer experience and applied science. Straight from the fields, learn how heavier, colder soils aren’t necessarily the challenge they’re made out to be. Hear from long-time no-till, reduced tillage, and cover crop farmers as they share their experiences, so you can be spared the same hard-learned lessons.

Whether you are a novice crop consultant or experienced in improving soil health, this conference is for you. The schedule includes a variety of speakers, including experienced growers, agronomists, and academic experts.

Participants will learn about nearly every aspect of improving soil health and productivity:

  • Weed species shift and control
  • Nutrient management in high-residue systems
  • Reduced till and cover crop strategies straight from veteran farmer practitioners
  • Proven cover crop strategies for your system to anchor nutrients, manage moisture extremes and provide free nitrogen
  • Soil health improvements with reduced till systems and cover crops
  • Vendor Sessions: Learn about new equipment, products and technology

Informal table talk sessions will follow to allow time to interact with speakers and industry. Three expert panels will share multiple methods for improving soil health and their bottom lines, as well as tricks they’ve learned over the years. Panelists include conservation farmers, skilled crop consultants, and experienced livestock producers.

The two-day conference opens with a keynote speech from Steve Groff, Cover Crop Coaching. Steve is a farmer who is widely known and respected as a cover crop pioneer, innovator, and educator.

More than 20 vendors representing equipment, products, and providing educational information will be on-site throughout both days. Attendees who stay for the entire conference will be offered 10 continuing education units (CEU).

Early bird fee is $140 for the full conference. Prices will rise to $180 after December 3rd, 2018. Register online at DIGtheCTC.com or call 320-235-0726 x2001.

Visit DIGtheCTC.com for more information on the agenda, lodging, program speakers, and to register.

Have we reached a tipping point for phosphorus saturation?

CLG-BannerImages-180213-04Phosphorus is one of the main nutrients of focus in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. It is essential to the growth of plants, but when phosphorus enters our water bodies it leads to excessive plant growth and increases in toxic algae that are harmful to human and animal health.

A recent study from the University of Montreal quantified, for the first time, the maximum amount of phosphorus that can accumulate within the watershed before additional pollution is released into the water.

Their results indicate a relatively low threshold compared to current application rates and notes that tipping points could be reached in less than a decade.

Research supervisor, Roxane Maranger, aquatic ecosystem ecologist at University of Montreal, compared the relationship of the land and phosphorus accumulation like this:

“Think of the land as a sponge,” Maranger said. “After a while, sponges that absorb too much water will leak. In the case of phosphorus, the landscape absorbs it year after year after year, and after a while, its retention capacity is reduced. At that point historical phosphorus inputs contribute more to what reaches our water.”

Be sure to read the full article to learn how they conducted the study and further implications of the results.

Locally, the implementation of nutrient reduction strategy practices like no-till, cover crops, phosphorus application management, perennial vegetation, buffers and more are imperative to the long-term sustainability on our water resources.

Liz Juchems

From the Archives: Conservation Chat with Paul and Nancy Ackley

The Conservation Chat podcast is taking a break for the next few months, but I would like to take you back through our archives on a tour of the “Best of the Conservation Chat Podcast.” There are 38 great podcast episodes to choose from – what’s your favorite?

paul-ackleyIn Episode 17 of the Conservation Chat, Paul and Nancy Ackley discuss how their interest in conservation and restoring the health of their farm led to changing how they farmed in Taylor County, Iowa over the past 40 years.  One big driver for the couple was knowing that much of the land in hilly Taylor County was degraded and prone to erosion.

To keep more of that soil in place, Paul and Nancy worked to increase organic matter in the soil through the use of no-till and cover crops. Now that they have several areas of soils with 4% organic matter and continue to plant cover crops, they are seeing a big change between their fields and other fields in their county.

“One thing for me that’s always resonated . . . when you drive down the road, and we have terraces standing full of water and there’s all green rye above it, and you go by [another] place, they’ve done full-blown tillage and it looks like chocolate malt ran down the hill.  Pretty soon, it begins to click in your mind.”

The Ackleys talk about the mindset that many farmers have about tilling, and how some farmers find it hard to get past their desire to see the dark soil and smell the overturned earth after tilling. The Ackleys, however, don’t like to see the dark soil in their ditches.

Listen to the podcast!

Julie Winter

Are you an emerging farmer?

No-till_cornfieldWe are excited to announce the launch of our new Emerging Farmers Project! This is a proactive approach to address the need to reach out to emerging farmers and future landowners. We define an emerging farmer as someone with ties to agricultural land who would like to return to the farm as an operator or have a voice in its management.

A goal of this innovative project is to help address a variety of social factors influencing the adoption of conservation practices and assist emerging farmers in the creation of a sustainable business plan for their operation.  According to the USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2014 Tenure, Ownership and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) Survey, in Iowa:

  • 1/2 of the land is rented or leased
  • Owner/operators make up 19.4% of landowners – 40% of landowners have never farmed before
  • Forty percent of agricultural land is owned by women, with 33% by women over age 65
  • By 2019, ~9% of all the agricultural land will be transferring ownership and ~9% put into a will

This large transference of land and significant demographic shift in Iowa’s agricultural land management and ownership calls for new approaches to conservation outreach and education.

To kick off the project, we are hosting a series of Rapid Needs and Response Workshops to discuss soil conservation practices like no-tillage and cover crops, grazing best management practices and water quality. If you or someone you know is an emerging farmer, please plan to attend a workshop!

February 20, 6-8 pm: Emerging Farmer No-Till Workshop
Hampton United Methodist Church
100 Central Ave E
Hampton, IA 50441
Franklin County
In partnership with Franklin County Extension and Outreach
Press Release
Flyer
RSVP: Michelle Sackville 641-456-4811 or sackvill@iastate.edu

March 6, 6-8 pm: Emerging Farmer Workshop
1306 Elings Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
Story County
RSVP: Liz Juchems 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

March 15, 6-8 pm: Emerging Farmer Soil Health and Grazing Workshop
Creston Pizza Ranch
Corner Corral
520 Livingston Avenue
Creston, IA 50801
Union County
RSVP: Liz Juchems 515-294-5429 or ilf@iastate.edu

The program is a collaborative effort led by the Iowa Learning Farms with farmer partners,  Iowa Beef Center, ISU Extension and Outreach, Beginning Farmer Center and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Liz Juchems

Conservation Chat 38: Go Deep with Earthworms

WebEpisode 38 of the Conservation Chat digs in deep to talk about earthworms, why they matter, where they thrive and what they can tell us about soil health. The chat features two heavy-hitters of earthworm research related to cover crops: Ann Staudt who leads research on the relationship between night crawlers and cover crops with the Iowa Learning Farms and Dr. Tom Kaspar, a plant physiologist who is also considered to be “the grandfather of cover crop research” in Iowa.

To study earthworms, you must be able to count them. In the earthworm literature, there are four common ways that researchers have approached the counting of earthworms:

  1. Excavate an area of soil to find and count the earthworms
  2. Use a mustard solution or wasabi to chemically extract the earthworms, drawing them to the surface
  3. Apply an electrical current to the soil surface and electrically extract the earthworms, drawing them to the surface
  4. Count middens (well-defined clumpy mounds that an earthworm leaves behind on the soil surface). This is the only method of counting earthworms in which earthworms are not harmed!

Iowa Learning Farms took the latter route and decided to count middens (pictured on the left). Ann Staudt wanted to study whether there were observable differences in the population of nightcrawlers (a type of earthworm) in corn and soybean fields with and without a cereal rye cover crop. The research was completed in fields that had side-by-side cover crop and no cover crop strips. The research found that there were 38% more nightcrawlers in the strips that contained cover crops!

Results

RyeThis research is unique, as very little research has been done about earthworm populations within corn and soybean systems. And, there is much more research that can be done related to earthworms in a corn and soybean system. Future research could include looking at cover crop growth related to earthworm populations, how earthworm populations may respond to different types of cover crop species and mixes, and even nutrient ability in a crop field related to earthworm tunnels, which some literature cites as “hot spots of nutrients.”

The podcast gets down to the heart of why earthworms matter. We often talk about why soil health is important, but it can take many years to detect indicators of soil health with current tests and methods. Ann Staudt suggests that earthworms may be a “reverse canary in the coal mine” for soil health:

“In some ways, it’s like a reverse canary in the coal mine. It’s showing us some of the positive benefits perhaps earlier than we’re seeing it in a lot of the other parameters that we’re trying to measure.”

There is one particularly unique benefit of earthworms that is not commonly considered. Dr. Kaspar explains:

“In [a no-till system], earthworms are basically tilling the soil for you. They’re creating these burrows or holes . . . the nightcrawler in particular is the only worm that produces a relatively vertical hole that goes from the surface down as deep as five or six feet, depending on the soil. . . Those holes allow water and air to enter the soil, which is really important and they provide a pathway for roots to go deeper into the soil.”

This last point is particularly important in a corn and soybean cropping system with tight spacing between plants. In order for crop roots to grow and have a greater ability to access water and available nutrients deeper into the soil profile, they must grow down. Earthworm tunnels can help crop roots do just that.

Listen to the most recent episode of the Conservation Chat with Ann Staudt and Dr. Tom Kaspar! You can now listen in a variety of ways:

Like the podcast? You can help us out by sharing with a friend! Do you agree that earthworms could be a mascot for life in our soil?

Julie Winter

A Year of Thanks!

On behalf of the Iowa Learning Farms team, I would like to thank all of our hosts, speakers and partners for an amazing 2017 Field Day season. The year our 28 field days were attended by 1,280 farmers, landowners, government employees, media and agribusiness staff. The topics included: cover crops, grazing cover crops, soil health, strip-till/no-till, bioreactors, rotational grazing, water quality, and monarch butterflies.  The combinations of these practices implemented on our landscape are key to helping reach our Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

Keep an eye out this January! We will be mailing a brief survey to all farmers/operators and landowners who attended an ILF-sponsored field day or workshop.

 

Be sure to check out our events page on our website to attend a 2018 event near you.

Liz Juchems