Enhancing Monarch Butterfly Conservation in Iowa

Iowa Learning Farms hosted webinar on Wednesday, September 16 about monarch butterfly conservation efforts in Iowa. During the webinar, Steve Bradbury, professor in the Departments of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and Entomology at Iowa State University explained monarch life cycles, migration and population decline. Up to 50% of the population that overwinters in Mexico comes from the corn belt of the US, making it critical to conserve and establish additional monarch habitat in Iowa.

Although year-to-year variability of the the monarch population is to be expected, the overall trend is declining. The concerning decline has been caused by extreme weather, deforestation in Mexico (which has been stabilized), and habitat loss (milkweed and other nectar resources) in the upper Midwest. In order for the population to be sustainable and able to withstand extreme weather events, it needs to occupy six hectares of the forest in Mexico. In order to achieve this, 1.6 billion additional stems (of milkweed and nectar resources) need to be established in the upper Midwest.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium was formed in 2015 to determine Iowa’s part in the establishment of habitat in the upper Midwest. Significant habitat needs to be established in Iowa and the conservation strategy for Iowa breaks out how many acres of habitat need to be established and opportunities to do so without taking acres out of crop production. Grass dominated sites are areas where there is opportunity to establish monarch/pollinator habitat and research is being done on the best way to transform these sites. Bradbury shared lessons learned from the demonstration sites during the webinar.

To learn more about monarchs and monarch conservation efforts in Iowa, watch the full webinar here!

Join us on Wednesday, September 23, for a webinar titled “Iowa Flood Center Floodplain Mapping Programs” presented by Witold (Witek) Krajewski, Director of the Iowa Flood Center.

Hilary Pierce

July 29 Webinar: Multiple On-Farm Improvements Provided by Prairie Strips

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, July 29 at noon about the benefits of integrating prairie strips into rowcrop operations.

Tim Youngquist, Farmer Liaison for the Science-Based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) team at Iowa State University, will describe ways that prairie strips can lead to on-farm improvements. “Prairie is an exciting, useful, beautiful tool that can help control erosion, filter water, and create habitat for a wide variety of native species,” said Youngquist. “It can be planted by any farmer or anyone who owns even a small amount of land.”

Youngquist assists farmers and landowners around the state in designing, installing, and maintaining prairie strips. He will give an update on the background of STRIPS, recent research results, and project updates. He will also cover frequently asked questions about prairie strips. Webinar attendees will gain an understanding of the disproportionate benefits that can be achieved through the planting of a small amount of prairie in a rowcrop field. Join us at noon on July 29 to learn more about prairie strips and have the opportunity to ask Youngquist questions about this conservation practice.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on July 29:

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

Hilary Pierce

July 9 Virtual Field Day: Prairie Strips – Small Footprint, Big Impact

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group, is hosting a free virtual prairie strips field day on Thursday, July 9 at 1pm CDT.  Join us as we explore the multitude of benefits prairie strips can offer with Tim Youngquist, ISU Prairie STRIPS farmer liaison, and Gary Guthrie, Story County landowner with prairie strips.

Photo Credit: Omar de Kok-Mercado

Prairie strips is a farmland conservation practice that uses strategically placed native prairie plantings in crop fields. The practice has been tested by the Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) team since 2007 on experimental plots at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and increasingly on commercial farms across Iowa. Results from more than eight years of trials showed that converting just 10 percent of a crop field to prairie strips could result in a reduction of 95 percent of the sediment, 90 percent of the phosphorus and 84 percent of the nitrogen from overland flow of surface water.

“Prairie strips are a useful conservation tool that farmers and landowners throughout the Midwest are integrating into their farming operations,” noted Youngquist. “Prairie keeps soil in place, filters water, offers habitat for many native species of wildlife and pollinators, provides beautiful blooming flowers, and more.”

Make plans to join us and participate in the live field day. Shortly before 1:00 pm CDT on July 9th, click this URL or visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events and click “Join Live Virtual Field Day”.

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 914 1198 4892

The field day will be recorded and archived on the ILF website so that it can be watched at any time. The archive is available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

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 field day.

Liz Ripley

Global Experience Highlights the Importance of Iowa Agriculture

The next guest post in our Water Resources Internship blog series this summer was written by Riley Wilgenbusch. He is a senior at ISU majoring in Agronomy and Global Resource Systems and grew up in Story City, Iowa, where he spent time on his family’s hobby farm and participated in many agriculture-related activities.

Interning with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! has so far given me a diverse perspective on Iowa Agriculture to contrast my prior international work experiences and studies in Global Resource Systems. In the summer of 2019, specifically, I traveled across Europe and Africa co-authoring a research paper for the Animal Production and Health Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) before working as a public health intern studying the intersectionality between nutrition and health in the context of healthcare delivery systems in Kamuli, Uganda.

Harvesting cacao in Uganda as part of my diversified agriculture education.

This summer, however, my plans brought me back to Iowa where I’m learning about some of the world’s largest agriculture systems with a renewed perspective. I credit my sustainability research at FAO with my renewed sense of urgency in the environmental research portion of the internship. As the interns have been collecting data on monarch habitats in restored prairies, examining soil health data within industrial agriculture systems, and attending webinars and field days focused on a variety of different conservation practices in agriculture, I’m beginning to contextualize the paper I wrote last summer and see firsthand the toll agriculture can take on natural ecosystems if not carefully managed.

I specifically recall a presentation at a field day that highlighted the monocrop systems that dominate Iowa’s landscapes. This is in stark contrast to my experiences working with subsistence farming and nutrition education in Uganda. Understanding the challenges facing people living in food-insecure areas of the world, I’m hopeful to see future crop diversification in Iowa to help make progress toward eliminating food insecurity in the United States.

I also appreciate the diverse landscapes he’s learned about in Iowa this summer, too. In combination with lessons on the history of Iowa’s landscape formation, I have traveled across the state visiting different county parks as part of a project to promote individualized learning activities for youth and families in Iowa’s great outdoors. As I’ve traveled, I’ve gotten to “debunk” the myth that Iowa is all flat cropland. From the steep terrain and terrace farming of the far northeast to the smooth, rolling hills of the southwest, Iowa is full of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Having been around the world, I’m thrilled to learn more about the state I’ve always called home.

Working with other interns on prairie plant research related to monarch habitats in central Iowa

As the summer progresses, I’m looking forward to doing more prairie research and monarch monitoring. As pollinator habitats continue to disappear, posing major threats to crop production, the importance of this environmental research can’t be understated. While I’m looking toward a career in healthcare delivery and research, I will always carry an agricultural perspective with me. This internship with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! is a tremendous opportunity to learn hands-on and promote the importance of agriculture and sustainability to audiences across the state.

-Riley Wilgenbusch

Making Nutrient Reducing Prairie Strips More Predictably Successful, Multi-Functional, and Cost Effective

Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar on Wednesday about research on how to optimize nutrient reducing prairie strips. Justin Meissen, Research and Restoration Manager at the Tallgrass Prairie Center, shared information about applied research focused on improving the chances of successful implementation, maximizing the ability to provide multiple ecological benefits, and improvising cost-effectiveness. He highlighted key results from prairie reconstruction field experiments and field trials.

Meissen shared the methods and results of these projects during the webinar. The seed mix design project found that seed mix was an important component of establishment success, and that grass/forb balanced seed mixes had the most conservation benefits across different categories. The project looking at the establishment of prairie on dry marginal land found that key prairie species established well in dry conditions and was cost-effective. The planting season project found that planting in the dormant season was more cost-effective for establishing pollinator habitat.

To learn more about the research into establishing prairie strips to provide conservation benefits, and the research going into optimizing this practice, watch the full webinar here.

Be sure to join us next week, on Wednesday, June 17 at noon. Mark Licht, Assistant Professor and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist at Iowa State University, will be presenting a webinar about the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual titled “A Resource for Successful Adoption of Conservation Practices”. The manual can be downloaded for free at the link.

Hilary Pierce

June 11 Virtual Field Day: Exploring the Bear Creek Saturated Buffer

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Conservation Learning Group, and Prairie Rivers of Iowa, is hosting a free virtual saturated buffer field day on Thursday, June 11 at 1pm CDT.  Join us as we explore the first-ever saturated buffer that was installed in 2010 within an existing riparian buffer along Bear Creek in Hamilton County.

Aerial shot of stream and seeded saturated buffer on the right, looking south along Bear Creek. Fall seeded prairie pictured in its first year of growth.

The event will include video footage from the field and live interaction with Tom Isenhart, Iowa State University Professor, Billy Beck, Iowa State University Assistant Professor and Extension Forestry Specialist and Dan Haug and David Stein of Prairie Rivers of Iowa. Together they will discuss how saturated buffers, riparian buffers and pollinator habitat work together to improve water quality, farm aesthetics, and wildlife opportunities.

Riparian buffers are a proven practice for removing nitrate from overland flow and shallow groundwater. However, in landscapes with artificial subsurface (tile) drainage, most of the subsurface flow leaving fields is passed through the buffers in drainage pipes, leaving little opportunity for nitrate removal. Isenhart, along with Dan Jaynes, Research Soil Scientist with the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment (USDA-ARS), pioneered the process of re-routing a fraction of field tile drainage as subsurface flow through a riparian buffer for increasing nitrate removal – creating the first ever saturated buffer that will be featured during this virtual field day.

Make plans to join us and participate in the live field day. Shortly before 1:00 pm CDT on June 11th, click HERE.

Or, join from a dial-in phone line:

    Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923

    Meeting ID: 914 1198 4892

The field day will be recorded and archived on the ILF website so that it can be watched at any time. The archive is available on the Iowa Learning Farms Events page.

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 field day.

Liz Ripley

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

May 13 Webinar: Exploring the Case for Retiring (Or at Least Down-Sizing) the Mower on Farms and City Lots

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, May 13 at noon about the benefits of reducing mowed land area across rural Iowa.

Reducing the size of mowed areas in rural Iowa has many layered benefits for landowners and land. Adam Janke, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist, will compare the costs and environmental benefits of three management options for existing idle turf grass areas in rural landscapes. Changing management of these areas from turf monocultures to diverse native perennial plants, like those found in pollinator plantings, can improve water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat. Making the change from turf to native perennial plants will also save landowners money and time.

“Farm margins are exceptionally tight and the need for every available acre in Iowa to work for soil, water and wildlife is greater than ever,” said Janke. “This work will show how creating new habitat areas on a farm can help to improve conservation outcomes while also saving time and money for the landowners.”

Janke, who studies wildlife habitat relationships in working agricultural landscapes, hopes that participants will take away new perspectives and ideas for what they can do with idle areas that already exist on their farms and acreages.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm on May 13:

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

Hilary Pierce

Getting Conservation in the Hands of Local Citizens

Our newest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast, A Passion for Prairies, features Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s David Stein. He is truly passionate about helping people learn more about their local ecology through on-the-ground outreach across central Iowa. Enthusiastic may be an understatement when it comes to Stein’s zeal and motivation to provide a personal, education-minded, place-based approach to conservation on working lands!

As a Watershed Program Coordinator with the non-profit (former RC&D) Prairie Rivers of Iowa, Stein holds a unique position in that the area he serves here in the heart of Iowa is at the direct interface of urban areas and prime agricultural land. That presents both unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to water quality, soil health, and facilitating corridors of habitat for wildlife.

Stein is particularly passionate about native prairie establishment, and its benefits to reduce runoff, improve water quality, build soil health, and provide habitat/food resources to many species of wildlife. Tune in to the Conservation Chat to hear about Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s targeted efforts to establish corridors of habitat, creating uninterrupted flyways between publicly-owned and privately-owned lands.

Photographs by Prairie Rivers of Iowa

Interested in doing some native landscaping, establishing a pollinator garden, or other native plantings on your land?  Look no farther that Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s Native Plant Seed Bank! Tune in to the podcast to learn more about this awesome new initiative, the brainchild of Stein (and his proudest accomplishment on the job thus far). The seed bank is currently offering 10 different species of native plants (flowers and grasses), and they are accepting deposits of native seed, as well—an incredible conservation resource for central Iowa.

Catch this episode and all previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and through iTunes.

Ann Staudt

 

ISU Bee Research and Best Management Practices

ILFHeader(15-year)

CassOn Wednesday, Randall Paul Cass, Extension Entomologist at Iowa State University presented an Iowa Learning Farms webinar. He discussed research being conducted at Iowa State University, which focuses on observing the challenges and opportunities for bees in Iowa’s agricultural landscapes.

Cass began by discussing some common misconceptions people may have about bees – including being able to identify bees that don’t look the way that most people expect bees to look. He went on to talk about native bees in Iowa and honeybees, which were introduced from Europe for honey production. Most native bees in Iowa are solitary bees that nest in the ground or in stems and many have more specialist relationships with native flowering plants than the introduced honeybees.

Because of Iowa’s annual crop production, limited forage availability and extreme weather conditions/changing temperatures, Iowa presents a challenging landscape for honeybees. Cass discussed research that has been done on how bee hive mass differs depending on the landscape (areas of high cultivation vs. areas of low cultivation) where the hives are placed. The study found that hives got heavier in areas of high cultivation (soybean fields), due to the availability of food resources for the bees from flowering soybean plants. This study also found that all hives, in both high and low cultivation areas, lost weight toward the end of the season.

bee study 1.PNG

Results from the study comparing hive mass of hives placed in areas of high cultivation to hives placed in areas of low cultivation

The study led to a recent research project which looked at prairie vs. soybean field placement of hives – this project started with all hives placed in soybean fields and then after the beans had flowered, half of the hives were moved to a prairie environment. The study found that hive mass increased in the hives moved from the soybean fields to the prairie in late summer. Cass discussed other results from this study, related to insecticide treatments, as well as a survey conducted with landowners on their interest in perennial vegetation establishment, allowing beekeepers onto their property, and if they feel pollinator friendly practices are important.

bee study 2

Results of the study comparing hive mass of hives placed in soybean fields (agricultural sites) throughout the year to hives that were moved from soybean fields to prairie sites in late summer

To learn more about the research being done on bees and agriculture at Iowa State University, watch the full webinar here!

Join us next month, on Wednesday, November 20 at noon when Erika Lundy, Extension Beef Specialist, and Rebecca Vittetoe, Extension Field Agronomist, will present a webinar titled “ISU Research Focuses on Integrating Cover Crops for Grazing into Row Crop Enterprises”.

Hilary Pierce