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

From the Archives: Conservation Chat Podcast with Amy Kaleita

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?

conservationchat-kaleitaangleThis month, we’re featuring Conservation Chat Episode 27 with Dr. Amy Kaleita. Kaleita is an Associate Professor in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and researches information technology and precision conservation. In a world of big data, scientists like Kaleita are now able to collect huge data sets in order to understand incredibly broad and variable concepts.

“In an agricultural context, there are so many sources of unexplained variability . . . things that you do on the landscape that cause results, but they cause different responses under different conditions, and so how do those conditions change over time and space?”

We may not be able to control things like the rain and the temperature, but we are getting closer to understanding how to adapt our management plans under variable conditions that are out of our control.

As Kaleita say, “Knowing is half the battle.” Kaleita’s enthusiasm is contagious – we hope that you make time to listen to this podcast episode and hear more about the future of big data, precision technology and its application to agriculture and conservation.

Julie Winter

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

From the Archives: Conservation Chat Podcast with Farmer Nathan Anderson

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?


This month, take some time out to listen to Conservation Chat Episode 28 with Cherokee County farmer Nathan Anderson. Nathan’s interview with host Jacqueline Comito sheds light on a common problem that many young Iowa farmers are facing: how to make the transition back onto the farm.

“It takes people like my dad who are willing to let somebody come back into the farming operation,” Nathan said of his father. He recognizes that his father made sacrifices, including “[forgoing] some of that income, and also [letting] me try new things that maybe he doesn’t agree with or doesn’t know about.”

Livestock is an early entry point for the next generation to begin or return to the farm. Nathan raises a cow-calf herd with his father and was given the opportunity to try new practices including rotational grazing, cover crops, increasing herd size and changing herd genetics to favor cattle that could utilize certain pasture resources. Nathan has fire in his belly for conservation and farming, but he also recognizes that it’s important to be patient.

“This farming world that we work in, there are a lot of things that we might want to do and we can’t have them all right now,” Nathan commented. “It’s a practice of patience. Patience is active. If you’re being patient, you have to work at it.”

Listen to the podcast episode now! Learn more about Iowa Learning Farms’ Emerging Farmer Project and consider attending our upcoming Emerging Farmer Soil Health and Grazing Workshop  on March 15 in Creston!

Julie Winter

From the Archives: Conservation Chat Podcast with Farmer Sally Hollis

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?

conservationchat-hollisFirst up on the “Best of” list is a chat with Sally Hollis. Back in December of 2015 in Conservation Chat Episode 15, we featured Sally Hollis of Lanehaven Farms. Sally and her husband Blake grow commercial corn and soybeans, seed corn, and cover crops for seed, as well as run a hog operation.

Growing seed corn allowed Lanehaven Farms the opportunity to first plant cover crops, especially along the end rows to help break up compaction. Sally eventually started growing cover crops for seed. Her farm has been able to experiment with many conservation practices, but, she says, they wouldn’t have been able to do so without being able to learn from other farmers, and ultimately being able to go through a trial and error process on her own farm. She encourages farmers to reach out and share information.

“Farmers need to support each other – build each other up, be inclusive, share your knowledge with others, invite somebody to come along with them.” Sally adds, “Help make this an easier decision for them.”

Listen to the episode here! Check out our entire archive of 38 episodes and find your favorite.

Julie Winter


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!


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

Conservation Chat 35: Clare Lindahl Chats About New Role

Conservation Chat Episode 35 features Clare Lindahl, now CEO of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. As you listen to this podcast episode, one thing will become immediately clear to you: Clare Lindahl is passionate about soil and water conservation.

Clare reflected back onto Hugh Hammond Bennett, the father of soil conservation and the founder of the Soil and Water Conservation Society: “He was responsible for founding the National Resources Conservation Service, he founded the society, he started the districts movement . . . an entire lifetime and career dedicated to soil conservation.” Clare noted. “I have a vest with his face on it.”

Hugh Hammond Bennett used to speak at events called plowing matches in Iowa. Even though the events focused on who could plow the best field, Bennett began giving speeches at these events and turning them into conservation field days.

“In Iowa, we took one of those plowing matches . . . and we made it into a conservation field day back in the 1950’s,” Clare commented. “It was really the first event of its kind. It reminds me of one of those home and garden television shows where you make over a house or you make over a yard. They made over a farm and showed how all of these conservation practices can go in. Those plowing matches that drew all those people in, they used that as an opportunity to show them about conservation at the time.”

Clare described the passion that Hugh Hammond Bennett exuded when he talked about conservation. Clare holds that same passion, yet it expands beyond soil conservation into water conservation and watershed-wide partnerships.

“The partnership building at Conservation Districts of Iowa was my favorite thing. I just loved bringing people together around the table to come up with actions and solutions and get things really done. I look forward to being able to do that on a national scale.”

natl_conf_covercrops_soilhealth_log_09D291130F2D8Keep an eye out for Clare as she forges a new path as the first woman to serve in the role of CEO of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. Also consider attending the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health on December 7 and 8 in Indianapolis.

Learn how cover crops are being used from producers, conservation leaders and scientists. The conference is great for those selling, using, or researching cover crops.

Clare3Listen to Episode 35 of the Conservation Chat with the new CEO of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Clare Lindahl! Listen to this episode on the go from your smart phone or tablet. You can also stream the Conservation Chat podcast right from your computer.

Julie Whitson