Iowa’s Water Quality Challenge

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about the efforts and progress being made toward reducing agricultural losses of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, explained:

  1. How does nutrient loss occur in Iowa agriculture?
  2. Which practices reduce nutrient loss?
  3. Are these practices being adopted?

Nowatzke explained that agricultural losses of nitrogen and phosphorus mainly occur in two different ways: soil and phosphorus loss through erosion from surface runoff and loss of nitrate-nitrogen and some dissolved phosphorus through subsurface drainage. In-field and edge-of-field practices have been designed and are being adopted by farmers and landowners to reduce these losses.

These practices can be used to meet the nutrient reduction goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The Strategy lays out several different scenarios in which the goals can be reached through different combinations of practices and the necessary adoption rate for each scenario. One of these scenarios is shown in the figure below, with the current estimated adoption rate also shown.

More widespread adoption of these practices (in this combination of practices or in the other scenarios) will be needed to reach the nutrient reduction goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Nowatzke shared the following resources for more information:

More information about the progress toward Iowa’s water quality goals can be found in the forthcoming 2018-19 Annual Progress Report of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Last year’s report can be found here.

Watch the full webinar here!

Be sure to join us next week, on May 6, when  Ross Evelsizer, Watershed Planner & GIS Specialist at Northeast Iowa RC&D, will present a webinar titled: “Multi-Cropping as a Profitable Soil Health Solution“.

Hilary Pierce

Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020

On Wednesday Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about cover crops and no-till, with advice for operators who are using or interested in using these practices.

Liz Ripley, Conservation & Cover Crop Outreach Specialist, began by discussing cover crops and the data on their use collected by ILF through their field day participants. While the number of acres with cover crops has grown over recent years in Iowa, more adoption of the practice will be needed to meet the goals set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Ripley shared the results of a long term rye study and a study looking at the impacts of individual species and mixtures of species on water quality and crop yield. She also provided keys to success with cover crops:

Mark Licht, Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, then shared information about switching to no-till and the associated benefits. A study done at Iowa State University found that no-till had lower input costs and yielded higher economic return, when compared to conventional tillage. Mark’s tips for success when switching to no-till:

More information on these practices can also be found in the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual, available for free from the ISU Extension Store.

Watch the full webinar! We also have many other great archived webinars available here:

Join us next week, at noon on April 15, when Adam Janke will present: “Finding Mutual Opportunities for Soil, Water, and Wildlife by Redefining the Field Edge”.

Hilary Pierce

Which conservation tillage management system is right for my farm?

Iowa farmers constantly seek to lower production costs, protect the environment, and conserve natural resources. Adopting conservation practices works hand in hand with paying attention to the basics of production efficiency to achieve all three of these goals.

This post focuses on the first of three in-field conservation practices covered in the manualtillage management.

First things first, let’s define no-tillage and strip-tillage as we have used them in the manual.

No-tillage: Agricultural practice where crops are grown in undisturbed soil and plant residue at the surface.

Strip-tillage: A system with less than one-third of the row width tilled to create a seedbed. The strip- tillage system leaves more than two-thirds of the row width undisturbed between tillage zones.

Together these systems help better protect the soil from erosion by minimize soil surface disturbance.

Tips for success when using these conservation practices

How do you know which system will work best for your fields? Check out the tips and easy to use decision trees below as a starting point. Don’t forget to check out the manual for more great tips on adding no-tillage and strip-tillage to your farm.

Tillage Residue Management at a Glance

Success with tillage residue management is defined by your ability to meet both row crop production and conservation goals. The table below summarizes tillage management methods for corn and soybean rotations and assigns a relative success rate along with a level of confidence based on published research. There are links to additional resources on pages 58-61 of the manual.

Be sure to check out our YouTube video series on Converting Your Planter for No-Till Operation and our recent webinar – Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020​​​​​​​ for more great information.

-Liz (Juchems) Ripley

April 8 Webinar: Succeeding with Cover Crops & No-Till: A Guide for Spring 2020

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, April 8 at noon. Due to the necessary postponement of our spring field days, this webinar will provide information on how to succeed with cover crops and no-till for spring 2020.

Liz Ripley, Conservation & Cover Crop Outreach Specialist, and Mark Licht, Assistant Professor & Extension Cropping Systems Specialist, will share results from a variety of cover crop projects. These projects include a 10-year cereal rye cover crop study, species selection information, water quality impacts, and tips for spring termination.

Cover crops continue to grow in popularity in Iowa due to their many benefits: reduced soil erosion, weed suppression potential, reduced nitrogen and phosphorus loads entering water bodies, and increased soil organic matter. “Fall 2019 was another difficult harvest season with limited time to complete fall tillage. Cover crops and no-tillage work together to help increase water infiltration and reduce erosion during heavy rain events,” said Ripley and Licht.

Don’t miss this webinar!

DATE: Wednesday, April 8, 2020

TIME: 12:00 pm

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: shortly before 12:00 pm on April 8th:

Click this URL, or type this web address into your internet browser:

    Or, go to 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

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

Conservation Best Practices Manual Available for Free Download

The Conservation Learning Group has published the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual to aid farmers in selecting conservation measures appropriate for their farms.

Designed primarily for farmers just starting out through three years of adopting conservation practices, the manual provides a broad range of information that could be beneficial to any producer. The manual is available for free download or in hard copy from the ISU Extension Store.

Covering in-field topics including tillage management, cover crops and diverse rotations, and edge-of-field practices such as wetlands, bioreactors, saturated buffers, controlled drainage and prairie strips, the manual provides detailed information regarding implementation and expected outcomes.

In addition, it includes comprehensive graphical decision tools to aid farmers in determining the best approaches for each area on their farm.

“A primary goal in producing this manual is to help farmers succeed with conservation practices based on the vast array of ongoing research and field studies conducted at Iowa State and beyond. We’ve heard from farmers across the state that sometimes it’s difficult to navigate discrepancies between different research reports and recommendations regarding conservation and water quality practices. With this manual, we’ve pulled together the most important parts from the rich sets of research on cover crops and other conservation efforts in Iowa and presented them using consistent language in an easy-to-use graphical format.”

Mark Licht, assistant professor and extension cropping systems specialist at Iowa State and CLG member

The manual was developed based on numerous meetings and working groups among stakeholders, researchers, agency representatives and communications specialists, who worked together to provide a comprehensive resource for farmers. The content was also presented to farmers at multiple events, prior to public release, to gather feedback on usability and the graphical decision tools included.

“This manual will be an excellent tool for our conservation planners to utilize as they work with farmers to adopt these management practices. I was involved in the working groups which discussed the best strategies for farmers who are new to these practices. It’s our hope with this advice that they will be successful early in the adoption of these practices both agronomically and from a conservation standpoint.”

Kevin Kuhn, resource conservationist for the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service

Conservation Learning Group will continue to evaluate responses to the manual and update it with emerging information and data from research projects.

“This is not meant to be a static guide. As our experiences and knowledge base grow, we will continue to communicate with producers and provide the best advice we can to maximize their successes with conservation practices.”

Mark Licht

The manual was developed in cooperation with the Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and Practical Farmers of Iowa, and with the support and input from multiple local, state and federal organizations.

This manual is a joint publication of Iowa State University and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under number 6000004181.

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

Iowa Learning Farms Weekly Webinars

Iowa Learning Farms will be hosting weekly webinars every Wednesday at noon. For those who can’t join us live, the webinars will be recorded and archived on our website!

Join us today at noon to learn more about carbonate with Mark Rasmussen and check out the full schedule (through the end of April) below.

Hilary Pierce

Any way you want it, that’s the way to seed it!

ILFHeader(15-year)The panelists at our field day last week near Luana all use a variety of seeding methods to get the cover crops in the field, but all agreed that the cover crops offer a variety of benefits to their farming operation.

Landsgard Cover Crop 3Daryl Landsgard, who typically drills his cover crops, stated “Rye is king of cover crops in terms of soil health and getting biomass to improve the soil.”

Landsgard shared a recent experience where his farm received over two inches of rain in a very short time period. By the time it stopped and he got his boots on to check the field behind his house, the water had almost completely infiltrated. In his curiosity, he took a drive down the road and noted how there was still significant amounts of water standing in fields that had tillage done earlier in the year.

“Water infiltration is one of the greatest benefits of cover crops and no-till,” noted Landsgard

IMG_4478Using a modified soybean planter, Ron Sass seeds his cover crops to reduce soil erosion. “We need to keep soil around for thousands of generations to come. We can’t loose any more! The benefit of me using cover crops is for the farmers of the future – they’ll get more out it than I will.”

Rounding out the panel was Joe Shirbroun, who has used an airplane and had pretty good results the past couple of years. He is motivated to find a way to make cover crops work on his farm while he has the flexibility to learn the best management with the help from cost-share.

IMG_4487“Regulation is coming. I use cost share to figure out how to do this before they (cover crops) get mandated. Right now, it isn’t a net gain, it is a small loss but I am willing to do that for water quality,” commented Shirbroun.

Any way you want it, that’s the way to seed it! If you are interested in adding cover crops to your land, there are multiple ways to get them seeded to help match your system goals and labor availability.  Consider starting with cereal rye before soybeans and seeding oats ahead of corn.

There are a lot of great resources available on our website, but also at your county ISU Extension Office or NRCS Office and local farmers in your area who have been successful with cover crops on their farms.  Make a plan to get cover crops part of your operation in 2020!.

Liz Juchems