Benefits of Organic Farming in Terms of Soil and Water Quality

During the webinar on Wednesday, Dr. Kathleen Delate, professor in the departments of agronomy and horticulture at Iowa State University, shared research results that show greater soil and water quality benefits in organic systems with longer crop rotations, when compared to conventional corn-soybean rotations.

Iowa is one of the largest producers of organic grains and demand for organic crops is continuing to increase. The practice standard set forth by the USDA National Organic Program instructs producers to utilize tillage and cultivation practices that maintain or improve the soil and minimize soil erosion. The standard also states that the producer must manage plant and animal materials in a way that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by nutrients and other substances.

Dr. Delate shared soil and water data that has been collected to compare organic farming to conventional farming practices. The results of the studies show that the organic sites have less nitrate leaching, increased amounts of soil organic carbon, and larger beneficial soil microbe populations. Research is also being done into organic no-till and this is a promising combination, but more research is necessary. Dr. Delate also emphasized the importance of integrating livestock into organic systems.

To learn more about organic farming and the results of these studies, watch the full webinar!

Join us on Wednesday, April 28, for the webinar “Cover Crops and Pheasant Nesting in Iowa’s Ag-Dominated Landscape,” presented by Taylor Shirley, a graduate research assistant at Iowa State University.

Hilary Pierce

April 21 Webinar: Benefits of Organic Farming in Terms of Soil and Water Quality

Soil health and water quality benefits associated with organic farming will be the topic of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar at noon on Wednesday, April 21.

Dr. Kathleen Delate, professor in the departments of agronomy and horticulture at Iowa State University, will share research results that show greater soil and water quality benefits in organic systems with longer crop rotations, when compared to conventional corn-soybean rotations. Small grains and perennial legume species, like alfalfa, are integral to supporting greater soil microbial populations and aggregate stability. Certified organic production requires the use of slower-release forms of nitrogen, which are associated with less nitrate loading and improved water quality.

“Returns have been negative in conventional row crop farming in recent years—alternatives that consist of longer crop rotations with lower inputs and improved soil and water quality need to be explored,” said Dr. Delate, who is responsible for research, extension, and teaching in organic agriculture at Iowa State University. “Give organics a go. You might be surprised to see how your soil changes and how many more pollinators and beneficial insects show up on your farm!”

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CDT on April 21:

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 will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Congratulations to our Cyclone Soil Health Sweepstakes Winners!

Held during the spring 2021 semester, the Cyclone Soil Health Sweepstakes invited current students at Iowa State University to form a team of creative minds and produce an original 3 – 5 minute video that demonstrates the importance of soil health to a specified audience. The competition allowed teams to apply their soil health studies and take an innovative approach to soil health education and outreach. Be sure to check out their videos using the links below or by visiting our Facebook page.

1st Place: Abbie Van Raden – Senior in Animal Ecology, Kari Jeffrey – Junior in Animal Ecology, and Heather King – Junior in Animal Ecology; ISU Environmental Education Club

2nd Place and People’s Choice: Jacob Schultz – Senior in Agronomy and Meyer Bohn – Graduate Student in Soil Genesis and Morphology; ISU Soil Judging Team

3rd Place: Jacob Handel – Senior in Environmental Science, Robyn Byl – Senior in Agronomy, and Amber Anderson – Graduate Student in Agronomy; ISU Soil Judging Team

Liz Ripley

Cyclone Soil Health Sweepstakes Showcase

The Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday featured a showcase of the Cyclone Soil Health Sweepstakes finalists’ videos. Iowa State University students were invited to form a team of creative minds and produce an original 3 – 5 minute video that demonstrates the importance of soil health to a specified audience. Four finalist videos were selected by a panel of judges and People’s Choice award voting is open through Sunday, April 18, on Iowa Learning Farms’ Facebook page!

Watch the videos and vote for your favorite using the “Like” or “Love” button on Facebook!

To learn more about the competition and see the four finalist videos, watch the webinar!

Join us next week, on Wednesday, April 21 at noon, for the webinar, “Benefits of Organic Farming in Terms of Soil and Water Quality” presented by Dr. Kathleen Delate, professor in the departments of agronomy and horticulture at Iowa State University.

Hilary Pierce

April 14 Webinar: Cyclone Soil Health Sweepstakes Showcase

The Iowa Learning Farms webinar at noon on Wednesday, April 14 will feature a showcase of the videos submitted to the Cyclone Soil Health Sweepstakes.  

Held during the spring 2021 semester, the Cyclone Soil Health Sweepstakes invited current students at Iowa State University to form a team of creative minds and produce an original 3 – 5 minute video that demonstrates the importance of soil health to a specified audience. The competition allowed teams to apply their soil health studies and take an innovative approach to soil health education and outreach.

Liz Ripley, conservation and cover crop outreach specialist, will give an overview of the competition and the top finalist videos will be premiered during the webinar. Following the webinar, the videos will be posted to the Iowa Learning Farms Facebook page and attendees are encouraged to go vote for their favorite by Sunday, April 18th.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CDT on April 14:

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.

Hilary Pierce

March 31 Webinar: When, Where and Why Soil Erosion Occurs and When, Where and How Do We Control It

Soil erosion and how to control it is the topic of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, March 31 at noon.

Soil erosion negatively affects soil productively, water quality, economics and food security. These impacts will be amplified as a less friendly climate evolves, making soil conservation today critical for a food-secure tomorrow.

Determining when and where soil erosion occurs is critical to identifying best management options for limiting soil loss. Rick Cruse, professor at Iowa State University and director of the Iowa Water Center, will share examples of temporal soil loss patterns during the year, as well as locations most susceptible to soil loss. He will also illustrate the impact of spring planting time and production of biomass crops on soil erosion rates.

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“Soil erosion has created more soil damage than most of us recognize,” said Cruse. “Understanding when and where this process is most serious can help us implement targeted conservation practices that can improve soil health while reducing soil degradation.”

Cruse’s primary research focus is soil erosion and he has years of experience addressing a wide range of soil management topics.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CDT on March 31:

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 will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Improving Farm Profitability with Precision Conservation

On Wednesday, Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar about how to improve farm profitability with the use of precision conservation. Josh Divan, precision ag & conservation specialist at Iowa Pheasants Forever, discussed how precision conservation can increase profitability, improve wildlife habitat, build soil health, increase water quality, and improve resiliency.

The use of precision ag technology can inform many management decisions on the farm, including identifying underperforming acres. There can be many reasons for underperforming acres, including those that frequently see ponded water, shading from trees, irregular field shapes that lead to overlapping inputs, and light, sandy soils. In these low-yield acres implementing a conservation practice can improve profitability and result in increased return-on-investment.

During the webinar, Divan explained some of the tools available to help understand the connection between yield and profitability, and to guide decision making once underperforming areas have been identified. With the new generation of ag analytics, it is possible to see how implementing a conservation practice would have affected average yield, profitability, and return-on-investment in a certain year. In the example below, if some “red” acres had been put into CRP, it would have resulted in increased average yield, profit, and return-on-investment for that year.

Implementing precision conservation can increase “farmability,” decrease risk, increase profit and return-on-investment, and decrease wasted inputs. There are also water quality and quantity, soil health, and wildlife benefits to implementing these conservation practices. Divan shared an exampled with a previous client he worked with and outlined the steps of the process to “turn red acres green.”

  1. Get to know the farmer
  2. Collect field information
  3. Connect to precision data
  4. Analyze the data, pulling in as much data as possible
  5. Investigate alternatives and determine what program or practice is the right fit
  6. Follow-up/validate the decision

To learn more about precision conservation and its benefits, watch the full webinar here!

Join us next week, on Wednesday, January 13 at noon for the webinar “Pollinator Plus: Creating a Buzz” with Jeff Jensen, a program manager and field coordinator for Trees Forever.

Hilary Pierce

January 6 Webinar: Improving Farm Profitability with Precision Conservation

How to improve farm profitability with the use of precision conservation will be the topic of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, January 6 at noon.

Precision agricultural (ag) technology can inform many management decisions on the farm, including identifying underperforming acres. In these low-yielding acres, conservation can improve profitability and result in increased return-on-investment.

During this webinar, Josh Divan, precision ag & conservation specialist at Iowa Pheasants Forever, will discuss how precision conservation can increase profitability, improve wildlife habitat, build soil health, increase water quality, and improve resiliency.

“By looking at your farm data through a profitability lens, you can better understand where you have financial risk in your farm operation. Developing a plan that minimizes that risk, while simultaneously increasing your profitability is the goal of precision conservation,” said Divan.

Divan works with farmers and their precision ag data to first identify unprofitable acres within their operation and then helps them understand how laser-focused conservation programs on those “red” acres can improve their bottom line.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CST on January 6:

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

Perennial Groundcovers for Achieving Soil & Water Conservation with Large-Scale, High-Yield, Row Crop Production

During the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, Cynthia Bartel, research scientist at the Iowa State University Biomass Cropping Systems Lab, discussed research studies that explore how to integrate perennial groundcover into row crop systems.

Perennial groundcovers (PGC) are crops that cover the soil, such as living mulches, perennial cover crops, and self-reseeding annuals, and are sometimes also referred to as intercrops. Using PGC has natural resources benefits, including reduced soil erosion, reduced nitrate leaching, enhanced organic matter, weed control, and carbon sequestration. The use of groundcover makes the coverall system more resilient in a cost-effective manner.

Bartel shared information about a three year study that looked at corn yield where fescue or bluegrass was used as PGC. During the first year, there was lost yield under the PGC systems, but as the system was adapted and best management practices were developed, the PGC systems matched the yield of the control acres. There are also on-farm trials being done in Iowa with corn and soybean, which have recently been expanded into states to the south after positive results in Iowa. As the result of these studies, desirable traits of PGC and best practices for systems management have been identified.

To learn more about PGC systems, management, current field research, stakeholders, and economics, watch the full webinar here!

The Iowa Learning Farms webinar series will continue in 2021! Join us on Wednesday, January 6 at noon for our next webinar, “Turning Red Acres Green,” with Josh Divan, precision ag and conservation specialist at Iowa Pheasants Forever.

Hilary Pierce

Virtual Field Day November 24: Making Cover Crops and Strip-Tillage Work in the Des Moines Lobe

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day with Mark Thompson, Webster County farmer who is making cover crops and strip-tillage work in the Des Moines Lobe on Tuesday, November 24th at 1 p.m. CST.

Located in the heart of the Des Moines Lobe, known for the rich, dark soil, Thompson has been utilizing no-till on all soybean acres and strip-till on his corn acres since 2002. During the virtual field day, Thompson will share his experiences figuring out which strip-till tools and timing of operations work best for his system.

“At first, it was an economics thing, then I found out that conservation, nutrient management and erosion control came along with it,” said Thompson. “If you have never tried no-till, try some no-till beans. You will be shocked how well it works and how easy it is – just hesitate to do any tillage in the fall and plant right into the corn stalks.”

Thompson first started using cover crops as a prevented planting measure in 2013. Observing the benefits to the land and reduction in soil erosion, he has continued to increase his use of cover crops acres and now raises cereal rye to provide cover crop seed to the rest of his farm. Thompson also takes a conservation approach as a professional farm manager and encourages the increased adoption of practices like cover crops and strip-till across the state.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on November 24th, 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