More than Outreach

ILFHeader(15-year)IMG_4897The majority of my summer internship with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms has consisted of various types of outreach events all over the state of Iowa. But when we aren’t doing outreach, you may be able to find us in the field helping collect data for a research project. One of the projects we have been working on is monarch monitoring.

Our part in this monarch research starts in a CRP field. We work through 10 different designated points in each of the fields that we survey. Once at a point, our job is to look at the area around that point to find milkweed, as well as flowering plants that serve as a nectar source for the monarchs and other pollinators. I wasn’t familiar with what a milkweed plant looked like before starting this research. The best way to learn is by going out into the field and identifying milkweed over and over, with the help of others that are familiar, until I’m comfortable on my own. Common patterns that milkweeds have to help identify them are the opposite leaves and a milky sap you find when you break a leaf.

Photo 3

Our area of interest at each site is a circle around the point that has a radius of 30 meters. We divide that circle into four quadrants (NE, SE, SW, and NW) and then start our search. We are looking for a milkweed plant and a blooming plant closest to the center point in each quadrant. If the milkweed plant is flowering then it will double as our flowering plant. The distance of the plants are measured by one of us standing at the center point with a rangefinder. The milkweed plant is inspected for any monarch eggs or caterpillars. As we move through the quadrants we are also on the lookout for adult monarchs flying around or resting on flowers. We repeat this process with each point at each field.

The overall reason for this surveying is to see if the cropland that has been converted into CRP areas is providing food and habitat for the monarchs. Milkweed is that plant we focus on because it is the only thing monarch larvae can eat. That is also why we check each of our milkweed plants for monarch eggs and caterpillars. We look for blooming plants since they will be the nectar source for the adult monarchs and other pollinators. The surveying is repeated at the sites each month to see changes in the habitat being provided for the monarchs.

This internship has allowed me to learn so much whether it was through a research project like this or an outreach event in an Iowan city. And with the summer and this internship coming to an end, I am thankful for every opportunity that has come my way.

Taylor Manemann is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Manemann grew up in Huntington Beach, CA and graduated from Johnston High School (IA). She is a senior in Environmental Science with minors in sustainability and agronomy.

Faces of Conservation: Rob Stout

This blog post is part of the Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.

Farmer-Partner with Iowa Learning Farms

Rob Stout has been farming near West Chester, Iowa, since graduating from Iowa State University (ISU) in 1978. Rob has demonstrated high levels of interest in conservation and water quality and has gotten involved in a variety of efforts to advocate for improvements. This has extended to his own farming choices which have included no-till for many years as well as participation in multiple research studies with ISU.

What has been your involvement and role with ILF?
I started working with the Iowa Learning Farms team in 2006. The ILF commitment to creating a Culture of Conservation resonated with my own interest in achieving water quality improvement through agricultural practices.

We got in on the first year of the long-term cover crop study and I’m proud to say we recently reported our tenth year of data. But it didn’t take me 10 years to see the benefits. The only parts of my farm fields not in cover crops now are the four test strips I keep for comparison in the ILF study.

The farmer-to-farmer communications element of the ILF outreach is very effective, and I’ve hosted field days, invited friends and neighbors to learn about conservation techniques, and volunteered to speak at ILF-sponsored events and meetings.

Why did you get involved with ILF?
Previously, I had been involved in several ISU research projects to help learn and improve farming techniques. I was also already involved in water quality initiatives. I saw working with ILF as an opportunity to learn more and work with others interested in water quality improvement.

The Culture of Conservation concept captured my interest. The ILF approach to research and outreach fit well with my own passion for learning and doing more to protect and promote the natural ecosystem through better agricultural practices.

How did you change the program, and how did it change you?
I don’t think I individually changed the ILF program, but I’ve always been pleased with the genuine interest they’ve shown in learning from farmers through listening to – and acting upon – feedback and ideas from the farmers. Through hosting and participating in field days, showing others the application of conservation practices, and joining in farmer-to-farmer interactions, I think I’ve provided valuable feedback and helped open new ears to the messages of ILF.

I’ve learned a lot from my involvement with ILF. I loved doing research when I was at ISU, and participating with ILF gives me a chance to continue learning while staying involved in research efforts.

I’ve also grown in my understanding of conservation and water quality issues. In 1983 I was doing no-till and thought I was doing everything I could. I initially thought of conservation simply as erosion control. The ILF cover crop study helped broaden my perspective and knowledge about practices that have changed the way I approach farming and conservation. ILF helped me to become an advocate and a voice of experience for farmers who may be interested in learning about the research from someone who has done it.

What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
A favorite memory is of a field day we were hosting for ILF. As often happens in Iowa, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate, and we had torrential rains dropping some 3.5 inches on the morning of the event. We quickly cleared the shop to make room for the participants and were able to have a great experience. However, I think the rainfall simulator in the Conservation Station trailer didn’t need to use its own water supply that day!

Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa?
I care about the environment and the future of our agricultural-based economy. Everyone, including farmers, must take responsibility and do their part to help reduce nitrates in our water. I think the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy‘s goals are critical for the future of the state.

I’ve been learning about watersheds and water quality since the early 2000s when I joined a farmer-led watershed group working to restore a local impaired creek. We secured grants to install bioreactors and a saturated buffer, implemented buffer strips along creeks, and took other positive steps to improve the watershed. To me, this kind of on-the-ground action is a core element to creating the Culture of Conservation which will benefit all Iowans.

Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series:

June 19 Webinar: Drainage Water Recycling: An Emerging Conservation Drainage Practice


Join us on Wednesday, June 19 at noon, when Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar about drainage water recycling.

Drainage water recycling is a conservation practice during which subsurface drainage water is captured for use as supplemental irrigation water in the summer. In addition to the irrigation benefit, drainage water recycling reduces nitrogen and phosphorus loss by reusing the water in the field. Chris Hay, Senior Environmental Scientist at the Iowa Soybean Association, will discuss current drainage water recycling research.

Chris Hay“Drainage water recycling is a practice with multiple potential win-wins: crop production and downstream water quality, nitrogen and phosphorus loss reduction, water quality and water quantity,” said Hay. He hopes that webinar attendees will understand that drainage water has exciting potential for both crop production and water quality, but that more research is needed–especially on the economics–before widespread implementation is realistic.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, June 19, 2019
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit 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:

Hilary Pierce

Cover Crop Impact on Crop Yield and Water Quality: Single Species vs. Mixtures


Emily Waring

How do single species cover crops compare to mixtures when considering impacts to water quality and crop yield? On Wednesday, Emily Waring, Graduate Research Assistant at Iowa State University, presented results from a research project that has been carried out at six Iowa State University research farms from 2013 – 2018.

The research project compared oats and a mixture of oats, hairy vetch and radish before corn to a control site where no cover crops were used before corn. Before soybeans, the cover crops used were cereal rye and a mixture of cereal rye, rapeseed and radish, which were again compared to a site where no cover crops were used before soybeans.

Waring’s take home messages were:

  • Corn and soybeans are fundamentally “leaky” – cover crops can fill the void in the brown months (before cash crop planting and after cash crop harvest)
  • Nitrate concentrations were significantly reduced with the use of cover crops – with the highest reductions seen when using rye and oats
  • Corn and soybean yields were unaffected by the use of the cover crops
  • Rye and oats provide the best biomass return on seed investment

The research project results show that single species perform well, when when looking at water quality improvement and crop yield. The cover crop species mixtures were more expensive and did not perform better than the single species at reducing nitrate and improving water quality, however Waring stated that there are likely more benefits to diversifying mixtures that aren’t reflected in this study. Future research will look at the soil health benefits of using cover crops and will compare the use of single species vs. mixtures when improving soil health is the goal.

To learn more about the research results, watch the full webinar here.

Join us next month, on Wednesday, June 19 at noon, when Chris Hay, Senior Environmental Scientist at the Iowa Soybean Association, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “Drainage Water Recycling: An Emerging Conservation Drainage Practice”.

Hilary Pierce

May 15 Webinar: Cover Crop Impact on Crop Yield and Water Quality: Single Species vs. Mixtures


Join us on Wednesday, May 15 at noon, when Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar about cover crops and their impacts on water quality and crop yields.

Emily Waring

This webinar will discuss the impact of different cover crop species on water quality, measured via lysimeters, and cash crop yield at six Iowa State University research farms. Emily Waring, Graduate Research Assistant at Iowa State University, will present the current results from the research project.

“This research investigates which cover crop species are the most effective across the state of Iowa, and takes into consideration environmental quality and economic viability,” said Waring. Waring is a PhD student working with the Agricultural Water Management group; her research promotes environmental quality within agriculture through cover crops by measuring soil physical properties and subsurface drainage water quality.

A Cover Crop Adviser board approved continuing education unit (CEU) is available for those who are able to watch the live webinar. Information for submitting your CCA/CPAg/CPSS/CPSC number to earn credit will be provided at the end of the presentation.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, May 15, 2019
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: 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:

Hilary Pierce

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

Who Knew? Cover Crops, Corn and Water Molds Webinar Recap

Cover crops have numerous benefits, but not everyone is using them. Decreased yield is a major barrier but terminating at the right time can minimize risk. What are the factors that may impact yield and why does timing matter?

Dr. Alison Robertson, professor of plant pathology and microbiology and extension field crops pathologist at Iowa State University, wondered if corn seedling disease could be the culprit.

“As a pathologist, when I look at reduced stands, more barren plants, and slower emergence, I automatically think of seedling disease.”

In this month’s podcast, Robertson details the research her team is doing to determine what management practices could reduce yield drag.

They first had to determine if winter rye can even host pathogens that infect corn seedlings. They discovered that rye can host Fusarium graminearum and Pythium sylvaticum.

Next, they set up a field trial experiment seeding winter rye ahead of planting corn. They terminated five plots at different times, anywhere from 25 days before planting to two days after planting.


Cover crop test fields in Boone, Iowa.

They found that when conditions are favorable, winter rye acts as a ‘green bridge’ for Pythium to infect the corn. Fusarium was present whether cover crops were used or not and Rhizoctonia did not appear at all.

Watch Dr. Robertson’s webinar here to learn the optimal time for termination and what additional factors may change it.

Brianne Osborn