Virtual Field Day February 18: Utilizing Perennial Biomass and Prairie for Renewable Natural Gas

Iowa Learning Farms is hosting a free virtual field day discussing the utilization of perennial biomass and prairie for renewable natural gas generation using digesters on Thursday, February 18 at 1 p.m. CST. Join us for a live discussion with Matt Helmers, Iowa Nutrient Research Center Director, and Dan Ciolkosz, Penn State Agricultural and Biological Engineering associate research professor.

The virtual field day is presented in partnership with Consortium for Cultivating Human And Naturally reGenerative Enterprises (C-CHANGE), Penn State University, Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group.

C-CHANGE is advancing research, education, and extension to support development of a new biobased value chain that is examining production of renewable natural gas through the anaerobic digestion of biomass combined with manure. The project is leveraging successful digestion of manure business models to encompass new agricultural feedstocks, more diverse products, and increased value throughout the supply chain. This virtual field day will provide an introduction for growing perennial vegetation and prairie and how anaerobic digesters produce renewable natural gas.

“Join us to learn some of the basics of how a farm digester works,” said Ciolkosz. “This field day will help you envision what a biogas digester might look like on your farm.”

“Perennials and prairie hold great potential to substantially reduce nitrate-N leaching,” noted Helmers on the additional benefits from increasing perennial vegetation and prairie on the landscape while providing fuel for renewable natural gas production.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CST on February 18 to learn more about the innovative technology used for site selection, click HERE 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 will be available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU). Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.

Liz Ripley

September 10 Virtual Field Day: Redefining the Field Edge

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day focused on redefining the field edge with the use of perennial vegetation on Thursday, September 10th at 1 p.m. CDT. Join us for a live conversation with Floyd County farmer Dennis Staudt and Mark Licht, Iowa State University Assistant Professor and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist.

Patty and Dennis Staudt on their Century Farm in Floyd County

The prairie pothole region runs from central Iowa north and west into Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and across the plains of Canada, covering nearly 173 million total acres. Even with subsurface drainage systems in place, many of these small prairie potholes are associated with high production risk and often represent the lowest profitability areas within a field. A CLG project led by Licht and funded by North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education is working with Staudt and three additional Iowa farmers to convert marginal land areas to perennial vegetation to evaluate the return on investment and explore the potential benefits to water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat.

“The edge of the field that was seeded to perennial vegetation this spring and borders on a creek that runs from a drainage district and passes it downstream. The creek is in the ditch, however, in rainy seasons, it fills up the creek and actually goes over the road in places, and likewise comes into my field. On average, I was able to harvest a profitable crop one out of three years,” noted Staudt. “I am hopeful this project will result in less grief in maintaining and harvesting that area while conserving the soil.”

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on September 10th, click HERE 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 will be available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.

Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU). Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.

Liz Ripley

Multiple On-Farm Improvements Provided by Prairie Strips

We hosted a webinar on Wednesday about the benefits of integrating prairie strips into row crop operations.

Prairie strips can be a solution to reduce soil and nutrient loss from row crop operations. Prairie plants are perennial and have deep roots and tall, stiff stems that can prevent water and soil from moving across the ground. Prairie is also native and diverse, providing important habitat for our wildlife.

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Tim Youngquist, Farmer Liaison for the Science-Based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS) team at Iowa State University, shared information about the history of the STRIPS project and the ongoing on-farm “STRIPS 2” trials. Youngquist helps farmers and landowners implement prairie strips on their land and on-farm trials are taking place across the state and region.

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During the webinar, Youngquist also went through the answers to questions he is frequently asked about prairie strips, including:

  • How do prairie strips impact water and nutrient movement?
  • Will prairie plug my tile lines?
  • What should I plant in the strips?
  • Do the strips create habitat for pollinators, ground beetles, or grassland birds??
  • How can prairie be used on my farm to achieve these benefits?
  • What maintenance do I need to do after seeding?

To learn more about prairie strips and the answers to these questions, watch the full webinar here! Recordings of other previous webinars are also available on our website.

If you’re interested in finding out if prairie strips could work in your operation, guidance is available in the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual.

Join us next week on Wednesday, August 5 for “Scaling up Oxbow Wetland Restorations for Multiple Benefits”, a webinar presented by Karen Wilke, Iowa Freshwater Specialist & Boone River Project Director for The Nature Conservancy.

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

Prairie Strips – Saving Soil, Cleaning Water, and Creating Wildlife Habitat

The final practice included in the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices manual is prairie strips. These areas of perennial vegetation address three main resource concerns (soil erosion, nutrient loss, and wildlife habitat)

Prairie species have stiff stems and deep roots that slow down water, allow it to infiltrate, and filter out sediment and nutrients. Patches of native perennial vegetation create valuable habitat for a wide variety of birds, insects, and mammals.

Prairie strips can be placed around the edge of a field, within the field, alongside or perpendicular to waterways, and in terrace channels. To provide erosion control, improved water quality, and wildlife habitat, a minimum of 10% of the field should be converted to prairie. Prairie strips should have a minimum width of 30’ and be spaced at intervals that work with your farming equipment.

Check out the decision tree below to see if prairie strips can work for you!

Prairie flowers and grasses take time to establish, typically requiring two to three seasons of establishment management. Annual and perennial weeds grow quickly and can outcompete prairie plants in the first two growing seasons. Mowing prairie is an essential management practice that must be done during the first year whenever the height of the vegetation reaches twelve inches. Mower height should be set to four to six inches.

This helpful graphic can help identify which seed mix is right for your field.

Be sure to join us for two prairie strips events coming up this summer:

July 9, 1pm CDT – Virtual Field Day: Prairie Strips – Small Footprint, Big Impact

July 29, 12pm CDT – Webinar: Tim Youngquist, STRIPS Farmer Liaison

Find all our upcoming virtual field days and webinars on our Events Page.

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

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, June 10 at noon about research on how to optimize nutrient reducing prairie strips.  

Prairie strip in Grundy County

Targeted restoration of native perennial vegetation (e.g. prairie strips) shows great promise as a nutrient reduction practice. To optimize the potential value of this practice, applied research focused on improving the chances of successful implementation, maximizing the ability to provide multiple ecological benefits, and improving cost-effectiveness is needed. Justin Meissen, Research and Restoration Manager at the Tallgrass Prairie Center, will give an overview of ongoing research in these areas and highlight key results from prairie reconstruction field experiments and field trials.

“As the Farm Bill rolls out new conservation practices like Prairie Strips and more farmers try prairie reconstruction for the first time, it’s important that good recommendations are available to ensure farmer success. Prairie reconstruction research provides the foundation for those recommendations,” said Meissen. Meissen is a researcher at the University of Northern Iowa’s Tallgrass Prairie Center whose work focuses on understanding barriers to establishment in prairie restorations, incorporating ecology and practicality in seed mix design, and methods of re-integrating native prairie vegetation in working landscapes.  

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on June 10:

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

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