November Webinar: Evaluating nutrient reduction at the delivery scale

ILFHeader

On Wednesday, November 14th at noon Dr. Matt Helmers, Professor Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, will discussing the innovative Conservation Learning Lab (CLL) project that is key to understanding impacts of in-field conservation practices beyond the research plot scale.

The webinar is a remote training opportunity for all stakeholders, including watershed coordinators, who are working on watershed improvement projects and implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

CLL LogoThe CLL is providing the opportunity to examine how in-field conservation practices impact nutrient loss at the scale at which water and nutrients are delivered to the stream. Through one-on-one meetings with farmers to complete the conservation planning process, the project team has helped these farmers implement cover crops, strip-tillage and CRP on their land. Pre-implementation and preliminary post-implementation water quality data will be shared from ongoing monitoring within the project areas.

“This research is critical to understanding impacts of in-field management beyond the plot scale,” commented Helmers. “Examining the results of large-scale adoption of practices at delivery-scale is critical to meeting the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals. It is also important to note the high amount of time and human capital needed to get farmer and landowner adoption of conservation practices at the level of implementation we need.”

Don’t miss this webinar!

DATE: Wednesday, November 14, 2018
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: 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 If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website: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.

Liz Juchems

Five-Year Cover Crop Mixtures Study: Significant Nitrate Reduction and Unchanged Crop Yields

ILFHeader

The results of a five-year study conducted by the Iowa Learning Farms, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Practical Farmers of Iowa, reinforced that cover crops added to a corn-soybean rotation have no negative effect on yield and result in statistically significant reductions in nitrate concentration in subsurface water. The details of the study are included in a brand new infographic now available for download.

Throughout the 22 site-years of yield data, there was no significant difference in cash crop yields between control strips without cover crops and those planted with cover crops. Is it important to note that planter settings may impact yield if not properly managed to accommodate residue from the cover crops.

yield results

Iowa soils are highly vulnerable to nitrate losses between April and June when natural nitrate production exceeds typical crop demands. The analysis of water samples from those three months, showed a statistically significant reduction in nitrate concentration in the cover crop strips.
nitrate reduction

We are really excited to see this significant reduction in nitrate concentration when cover crops are present, as addressing nitrate levels is a key component to reaching our Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

Project MapSince this project had locations located throughout the state, we were able to see how the different cover crop species performed in different soil regions and weather patterns. We observed consistent establishment and biomass production of the rye and oats at all sites and gained the largest reduction in nitrate concentration from those single species treatments. Rye and oats provided the most biomass and had the lowest cost of establishment, helping make them the top choice for cover crops in Iowa!

The infographic is available online at the ILF website. Funding for this study was provided by NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant and Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

-Liz Juchems

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

What a Night for a Field Day

While 2.5 inches of rain the previous day forced the field day location to be moved on to the Dordt College campus that did not diminish the enthusiasm and discussion. It also helped that at least for those of us from Ames it was the first time we had seen the sun in quite a few days.

The field day was hosted by Dordt College, Iowa Learning Farms, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach on September 5.  The field day stations included Joel Dejong, NW Iowa Crop Extension Specialist, talking about protecting soil resources, Colton Meyer, West Branch of the Floyd River Watershed Project Coordinator, talking about saturated buffer planning, and our Iowa Learning Farms group demonstrating the Conservation Station On the Edge.

This was a unique event as there were approximately 150 students from the Dordt College Agriculture Program in attendance in addition to local farmers and landowners. This provided a great opportunity to discuss the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy with them and how edge-of-field practices such as bioreactors, saturated buffers, and wetlands can be used to reduce nitrate loss from agricultural lands.

 

Not only did the students ask questions during our allocated time but many came back after the end of the field day to make sure they fully understood how these practices work including how tile drainage worked. If we had not had a 4 hour drive ahead of us I think we might have been there discussing these practices until long after dark.

It was encouraging to say the least to see the interest among the students in these systems. Some of their questions  we have heard many times throughout the summer including how long will the woodchips last, what kind of wood should we use, and can we crop over a bioreactor. Many of the answers to these questions are touched on in our Talking With Your Tenant: Denitrifying Practices publication.

However, the questions went beyond this. We had a discussion about whether diversifying our landscape and cropping system can also play a part in reducing downstream nutrient delivery which it absolutely can.

There were also questions about what time of the year we see the most nitrate lost. Which based on nearly thirty years of data from our drainage water quality site near Gilmore City we see about 60-70% of our annual drainage and nitrate loss in April-June.

Overall, it was exciting seeing the interest from the students and really highlighted the need to provide these out of class learning opportunities to students of all ages.

Matt Helmers

What is your hope for Iowa?

As the Conservation Station travels the state this summer, citizens of Iowa are being asked to share “What is your hope for Iowa?” hope for iowa Many inspiring speakers at the One Water Summit conference I attended last week gave me a chance to think about this question and my hope for Iowa.

The One Water Summit is an annual event organized by the U.S. Water Alliance to further their mission to build a sustainable water future for all.  I was part of the Iowa Delegation of 52 farmers, watershed coordinators, city and municipal utility officials, and agriculture and conservation organization, Iowa Water Center, and ISU Extension and Outreach representatives.

Iowa farmers and water leaders spoke on several panels, sharing how Iowa is approaching water quality improvement, implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS), and monitoring and tracking progress of the INRS.

What struck me, and many of the Iowa delegation, was that the INRS embodies the One Water approach. Across the state, several rural and urban stakeholder groups are working together to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loss by 45%.  Do we have progress to make in achieving the goals and engaging landowners, farmers, agribusiness and other partners on the scale we need to succeed?  Absolutely.  But the work of the past five years is a good foundation for moving forward.

To understand more about this regional approach and to learn how you can be involved in this effort, you are invited to attend the North Central Region One Water Action Forum on December 11-13, 2018, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The North Central Region Water Network, Iowa Soybean Association, Soil and Water Conservation Society and the US Water Alliance are organizers of this event.

The Forum will bring together researchers, educators, practitioners, farmers and policy-makers to advance more connected and cohesive approaches to water and watershed management in the North Central Region. Together, we will deepen the one water conversation, localize lessons learned by delegates and attendees of the National 2018 One Water Summit, and take steps to put one water to action in the Midwest.
One Water

So what is my hope for Iowa?  I hope that our collaborative approach to improving water quality continues to gain momentum and achieve ever increasing successes and that you all will join me at the One Water Action Forum in December.
Jamie Benning

Jamie Benning is an Iowa Learning Farms team member and Water Quality Program Manger for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Webinar Recap: Dan Jaynes Provides Updates on Saturated Buffers

Dan Jaynes, Research Soil Scientist with the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment (USDA-ARS), hit the high points on saturated buffers last week in the latest Iowa Learning Farms webinar. Watch the archived version now.

Saturated Buffer Effectiveness and Price Per Pound of N Removed
Saturated buffers can divert about half of the water coming out of a tile outlet (red bars). From this diverted water, the practice can remove between 8-84% of N (blue bars). Saturated buffers costs about $1 per pound of N removed. The practice ranks similarly to other nitrate reduction edge-of-field practices. A comparison table is shown below.

effectiveness-horz

Recent Updates to the Conservation Practice Standard
See the most recent conservation practice standard for a saturated buffer here. Watch the presentation to hear the discussion on specific changes.

Saturated Buffer Design
Saturated buffers should be designed to treat 5% of the drainage system capacity, or asDesign much as is practical based on the available length of the vegetated buffer. To determine the drainage system capacity, use this excellent tool from the Illinois NRCS. Option 1 (determining capacity using slope and diameter) is the most common option used if limited information is available on the drainage system.

Frequently Asked Questions You Should Know
If you field questions from producers about saturated buffers, make sure you know the answers to these commonly asked questions. Dan covered his list of FAQs:

  • Are we trading a water quality problem for an air quality problem?
  • Does denitrification account for all of the nitrate lost?
  • How wide should the buffer be?
  • What should the buffer vegetation be?
  • What about multiple distribution pipes?
  • What about roots plugging distribution pipes?

Roots Plugging Distribution Pipes
On the issue of whether roots plug distribution pipes, Jaynes says that, generally, the answer is no. For a more in-depth look, here is a great video of a look inside a saturated buffer distribution pipe.

To learn more about site suitability for saturated buffers in your local area, explore the ACPF Saturated Buffer Viewing Tool. The suitability of an area in central Iowa is included below. This can be a great tool to determine potential saturated buffer sites (followed by a trip to ground-truth site conditions).

Sat buffer-horz

If you want to learn the latest information about saturated buffers, tune in to the archived webinar!

Julie Winter

Farmer Profile: Ben and Andy Johnson

Ben and Andy Johnson_cropCLLThe Johnson brothers farm in Floyd County where they grow corn and soybeans and manage a ewe flock and feeder lamb operation. The duo are no strangers to conservation and trying new practices. They began no-tilling soybeans over fifteen years ago and have nearly ten years of experience strip-tilling corn. Other conservation methods they have employed on their farm include buffer strips, prairie CRP, pollinator habitats, field windbreaks, a pheasant safe program and cover crops.

Ben began using cover crops in 2013 when a wet spring delayed planting on hundreds of acres until it was too late to plant a cash crop. Not wanted the fields to remain empty all year, Ben planted oats and radishes for the first time. As to why he does it, Ben explained, “I want all my black soil still on top of my hills and not at the bottom of all of them, not in my road ditches and not in the Cedar River.” Within his no-till system for soybeans and strip-till system for corn, he found that using cover crops helped control erosion and improved organic matter and overall soil structure.


“I want all my black soil still on top of my hills and not at the bottom of all of them, not in my road ditches and not in the Cedar River.” – Ben Johnson


In 2016, Iowa Learning Farms approached Ben and Andy to be a part of a new Conservation Learning Labs* (CLL) project that is studying changes in nitrogen and phosphorus loss at the delivery scale. The Johnsons farm near an existing Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetland in Floyd County that has measured water quality for about three years.

Using the CREP wetland monitoring system, the project will be able to measure changes in water quality after cover crops are planted in the project area over the next three years. The Johnsons agreed to participate in the CLL project, and in fall of 2017 they seeded cover crops on over 54% of the nearby research watershed acres.

Ben says, “The easiest place for somebody to start is no-tilling their beans. They don’t really seem to respond to tillage and it’s such a labor and money eater. That’s the biggest reason we switched. The most precious resource on my farm is time.”

Ben Johnson and his wife Amy have two sons, Jackson and Riley. Andy Johnson had his wife Abbie also have two young sons, Kyle and Carter. Ben was featured in our Conservation Chat podcast – listen to the episode to hear more about his operation and what drives his conservation ethic.

Julie Winter

*The Conservation Learning Labs project is funded by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Services (USDA-NRCS) of Iowa.