Guest Blog: Fair Eats

Our final summer guest blog post comes from high school intern Josh Harms, who will be a senior at South Hamilton this fall. Take it away, Josh!

Hello, my name is Josh Harms. I am a high school intern with Iowa State’s Water Rocks! program this summer. While I have been traveling across the state of Iowa to many different county fairs, I have had the privilege of experiencing a diversity of fair food, everything from the basic corndog to the amazing tacos and black raspberry ice cream at the Wright Co. Fair. I also tried pulled pork nachos at Badger Fest, fried cheese balls at the Central Iowa Fair, a pork tenderloin at the Washington Co. Fair, and a mango smoothie followed by mini donuts at the Cherokee Co. Fair.

Throughout all the fairs I have attended, the Wright Co. Fair had the best food by far, but I guess that could just be my bias towards tacos and ice cream, especially black raspberry! After eating all these different foods, I still enjoy all the unique foods that Iowa’s fairs have to offer, but I think I maxed out my capacity for fried foods when I had chicken tenders, fried cheese balls, and a funnel cake all in the same trip!

As my internship is coming to a close, I have really enjoyed the county fairs and camps I’ve been to, and I have also learned a lot about the environment in Iowa. One thing that is really memorable is that one gram of dog poo has 23 million bacteria. Also, sediment is the #1 pollutant in Iowa. Actually, in Iowa, we lose 1 inch of topsoil every 20 years and we gain that 1 inch back in 500-1000 years. Overall, I have enjoyed working with the other interns along with traveling to all the different fairs across the state of Iowa. I would also like to thank the staff at Iowa State University for this wonderful internship opportunity!

Josh Harms

Internship offers new perspectives, new direction

Today’s guest post in our Water Resources Internship blog series was provided by Andrew Hillman. Hillman grew up in Bettendorf, Iowa, and went to school at Pleasant Valley. He will be entering his junior year at ISU in the fall, majoring in Biosystems Engineering. Read on for his unique perspectives in the internship coming from an urban background!  

It has been a fun, wild ride in a way for me this summer. Coming from a completely urban background in the Quad Cities and starting this internship, I had little to no idea about any of these issues, or really anything about agriculture at all to be honest. But, from the pre-job training to all the experiences I have had this summer, from field work to outreach events, I have learned quite a bit. I never thought before this summer that I would ever be excited to go out and see things like bioreactors and restored oxbows, but here I am!

I have always been somewhat informed about environmental issues, but the thing that I have enjoyed the most about this summer is that I now have more nuanced and informed opinions about issues. And I can actually draw on my own experiences now, which is very neat. I knew that erosion and nutrient loss and runoff were environmental issues on the forefront in Iowa, but now is the first time that I can say that I feel personally connected to these issues, which is always something I felt that as an Iowan I should be doing, but never knew enough about.

Going to Iowa State University for Biosystems Engineering, I quickly was exposed to how little I knew about agriculture in Iowa, and so this summer has helped me fill a gap in my knowledge that was fairly noticeable compared to some of my peers. Now that I have experience going out to a field, seeing cover crops and collecting water samples, some of the things we talked about in my ABE classes are suddenly much clearer to me now that I have the context.

Something specific that I did in my ABE 218 course was build a table-scale system for reducing nitrate levels in water. Now that I have seen an actual bioreactor site, and presented the model bioreactor that Extension has, I have a greater appreciation for that project and the things that I learned while doing it. I even had the opportunity to work with Chase, one of the other interns, to come up with a preliminary design of our own for a model bioreactor to possibly be placed in one of our conservation trailers in the future. Edge-of-field practices like bioreactors are really fascinating to me.

Back on July 12, I had the opportunity to go to my home county for a Scott County soil health and cover crops field day. This was a great event for me, because growing up in Bettendorf, I really did not associate Scott Co. with much farming compared to the other places I had been in Iowa. It was interesting to see all the things that farmers in my area were doing to further soil and water quality goals.

The host location, Cinnamon Ridge Farms in Donahue, Iowa was amazing. It was eye-opening to hear the owner talk about all the strategies he was using, including his methods for integrating cover crops into his operation. Because their operation does tours year-round, including tours to farmers from all around the world, he had a unique perspective on many of the government cost share programs that are available to farmers, noting that there are not very many countries in which the government will pay you to adopt a farming practice. I think that this is very important, and one that people should keep in mind as Iowa communities look to adopt more parts of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy in the future.

I am currently in the Biorenewables option right now in Biological Systems Engineering, but after my experiences this summer with the Iowa Learning Farms, I am seriously considering switching my option so I can continue to learn more about the issues that I have been exposed to this summer! As an engineering student, this is where I can see so many opportunities to get involved after graduation.

Andrew Hillman

Lost in the Corn: The Search for Lysimeters

Today’s guest blog post was provided by summer student intern Laura Lacquement. A native Iowan, Laura grew up south of Des Moines, and went to school at Martensdale-St. Mary’s. She started her college career at Valparaiso University, and later transferred to ISU, where she is now a senior studying Environmental Science.  

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I enjoy travelling across the State of Iowa with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms. The location and events vary, while the field work remains consistent. One of the projects I’ve helped with all summer long is ILF’s cover crop mixtures project. Each week we travel to three of Iowa State University’s research farms to collect water samples from lysimeters located in plots of corn and soybeans.  Each block of plots contains 12 lysimeters placed between rows of corn or soybeans.

Lysimeters measure the movement or storage of water in the ground.  The lysimeters that the ILF team uses are composed of a tube two inches in diameter and two feet (24”) deep.  The bottom of the tube is composed of a porous ceramic cup that allows the movement of water into the lysimeter from the soil around it. Using a vacuum pump, we create suction inside the tube that pulls water inside.  Each week, we extract the water by using a flask that is connected to the vacuum pump on one side and a straw connected to its lid and inserted into the tube to its full depth.  Using the pump and flask, we pull water from the lysimeter into a small bottle, where it will later be analyzed for the amount of nitrates present. Each lysimeter tube is installed so it’s flush with the ground. To protect the lysimeter, a four inch PVC drainage pipe plug and small pipe is placed above it.

Most of our plots are located close to each other, with the exception of the plots at the ISU Northern Research and Demonstration Farm in Kanawha, Iowa. Finding the lysimeters there can be quite an adventure! At the start of the internship, all we could see of corn and soybeans in our plots were little sprouts an inch tall.  In just a couple weeks, the corn grew past our knees to over our heads.  I not only watched this growth, but experienced it firsthand by struggling to carry our devices and tools over and through the corn and soybeans to each lysimeter.

On Friday, June 30, I traveled to Kanawha, Iowa, with Elizabeth to extract water samples from lysimeters there. As I mentioned, the plots here are not located right next to each other, but in completely different fields separated by a grass driveway.  After we collected samples from the soybeans, we entered the corn in search of our small buried lysimeters in the shoulder-height corn.  We walked inside each row looking for our lysimeters … for an hour or so. Our ILF plots happen to be in the middle of a much larger field, and the challenge is that there’s no easy way to flag or label the plots once the corn is this tall! We eventually ventured a bit south of our current location, where we recognized our plots and finally spotted a lysimeter only a short distance away. Small victories!

Friday, July 7, I returned to Kanawha with Kaleb to collect more samples. This time, I knew exactly where to go to find the plot, but not the precise location of the lysimeters. In just one week, the corn had grown from the height of my shoulders to the height of me. I could no longer see over the corn.  As I finished extracting each water sample, Kaleb would move to the next lysimeter.  He may be the tallest of us interns, yet I still could not see him over the corn.  To find him and the next lysimeter, I followed the sound of corn rustling and looked for his bright red shirt through the corn.  If we do not wear bright colored shirts, a game of Marco Polo may be necessary!

After these experiences, I’m now very confident where ILF’s plots at Kanawha are located, plus how to find the other lysimeters and interns in corn taller than me. Each time I take samples from the lysimeters, I have learned a little more about corn and soybean cropping systems, as well as water quality issues in Iowa!

Laura Lacquement

Announcing the 2017 Water Resources Internship Program!

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We are looking for a great group of college interns that are passionate about conservation and natural resources, and eager to learn more about the many water and soil issues here in the state of Iowa. This competitive internship program is not just limited to ISU students – it’s open to undergraduate college students from any institution across the country.

Read on for full details of our 2017 Water Resources Summer Internship Program.  Applications are being accepted through this Thursday, January 26, at 5:00pm! Perhaps you know a college student who might be interested. Please pass this information along to them!

2017 Water Resources Summer Internship Program

Position Description:
Have an interest in the environment, conservation, and agriculture, particularly water and soil quality? We are seeking undergraduate student interns for summer 2017 who are self-motivated, detail-oriented, strong communicators, enthusiastic, and have a sense of fun!
Interns’ time will be split between research and outreach, all centered around environmental issues and challenges in Iowa. Summer interns will have the opportunity to:

• Work with two exciting Iowa State University education and outreach programs:
Water Rocks!, focused on youth outreach, and
Iowa Learning Farms, focused on adult/community outreach
• Help children and adults better understand environmental and agricultural issues
• Travel throughout the state of Iowa with the fleet of three Conservation Station trailers
• Develop strong oral communication skills
• Contribute to water and soil quality research projects in ISU’s top-ranked Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
• Gain technical skills related to environmental science, soil and water quality through both field and lab research

The program is based on campus at Iowa State University and will involve travel to research sites and various outreach events around the state, which includes some scheduled night and weekend events. This is a paid internship, with students working up to 40 hours/week. The internship program begins Wednesday, May 10 and runs through Friday, July 28, 2017.

The Iowa State University water resources internship program serves as an outstanding springboard for careers in agriculture, engineering, the environment, and/or further studies. Past participants in our internship program have gone on to such careers as project engineer, watershed coordinator, environmental educator, field research specialist, and USDA-FSA program technician, while others have pursued graduate school opportunities.

Job Skills and Requirements:
• Currently enrolled undergraduate student (open to all majors)
• Demonstrated interest and/or background in environmental science, natural resources, conservation, soil and water quality, agriculture, and/or education
• Evidence of strong communication skills
• Ability to learn new tasks quickly
• Teamwork skills
• Self-motivated
• Detail-oriented
• Time management skills

Additional internship requirements:
• Participation in 5-week spring training course for internship (one night per week, beginning week of March 27)
• Possession of valid driver’s license
• Background check with ISU Risk Management for working with youth

How to Apply:
Required application materials include:
• Resume (Include your GPA, major, related coursework, and previous work experience)
• Cover Letter (Tell us what interests you about this internship and why you’d be a great fit!)

Internship application deadline is 5:00pm on Thursday, January 26, 2017. Please submit your complete application package to Ann Staudt via email – astaudt@iastate.edu. We will conduct interviews with qualified students in early February.

Ann Staudt

 

Reflections on Water Rocks! over the years

This is our our final intern guest blog post for the summer! Noah Stevens is entering his senior year at Ames High School, where he is actively involved in track, cross country, and the performing arts. He has helped out with numerous Water Rocks! video productions over the years, and this summer participated in our high school internship program.

I’ve been involved with the Water Rocks! program since its origin back in 2012, and I must say, it has been fun to watch it progress in its success. From watching myself in the first Water Rocks! music video on the Water Rocks! website to being present at the Capitol building when the program was awarded with the Iowa Environmental Excellence Award for the State of Iowa, I have felt very privileged to be a part of this organization. To be honest, though, I had no idea that Water Rocks! has had such a big impact in the world of education until my internship this year. When I think about it, I realize that all the recognition and awards the program has received are definitely well deserved.

MeetTheInterns-NoahI remember the day in my freshmen year of high school when Mrs. T [DeAnna Tibben, Earth and Space Science teacher at Ames High] told my science class that we were going to spend the entire class period exploring the Water Rocks! website. I was completely surprised! To me, the website was just a bunch of pictures and videos of me with my friends and family doing things to help the environment, but not to the rest of the class. To them, the website was a river of new information about water quality, conservation, and fun. Yeah sure, I recall my peers joking around with me because they saw me in the videos and pictures, but I also recall them talking to each other and asking questions about water. That was a really cool thing to see the program that I was involved with be taught in my classroom and be widely accepted by high school students and teachers alike.

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Noah’s film debut in the Conservation Dogs music video (2012)!

Apart from my internship, my experience with Water Rocks! has been primarily through the music videos and songs produced by the program. With that said, my internship with Water Rocks! has shed a new light on how much educational material the organization actually has! Alongside dozens of informational videos and songs, Water Rocks! has loads of classroom modules, presentations, and games that inform about all things water. What is taught does a great job at not confusing the learner while at the same time informing effectively. The best part is that these materials do not just teach the information presented, they engage the learner and encourage them to participate in the learning; and it is fun!

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A few more recent music videos that Noah’s been a big part of: This Is Our Time (top) and Soil Health Style (bottom).

Besides all of the material Water Rocks! is able to teach people, something I really noticed about the program is how much, and far, the Water Rocks! team travels across the state to present the information. From county fairs to farmer’s markets, the team sent people all across the state throughout the whole summer presenting the Water Rocks! material. I was genuinely surprised at how many people were interested in what we had to say.

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In addition to video production, Noah got a taste of outreach this summer traveling to events across the state with the Conservation Station!  Here he is with college interns Kate Sanocki and Hannah Corey.

All in all, Water Rocks! is a great program full of information, engagement, and fun! It has been an interesting ride to see the full story behind what all goes on in this great organization in addition to the music.

-Noah Stevens

 

Research Rocks!

Hi! I am Emily Rehmann, and I am one of the high school interns for Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms this year. I will be a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis next year, and I am excited to start a new adventure there.

MeetTheInterns-EmilyThis is my second year interning with Water Rocks!, and while I enjoyed a second season of counting middens and attending fairs with the Conservation Station, I also wanted to try something new: data analysis. I had already experienced collecting water samples in the field from lysimeters, and now I wanted to take it further and see the results of the project and finally the implications of the results and the effects that they could have.

In the most recent blog post, Getting Dirty and Getting Samples, Mary described how the water samples from lysimeters are collected. Where she left off, Jessica, another high school intern and my sister, and I come in.

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The Rehmann sisters out and about with the Conservation Station — Emily is on the left and Jessica (who blogged earlier this summer) is on the right!

We have been working on analyzing the lysimeter project data from 2014 and 2015. Lysimeters collect groundwater samples, which are sent to the lab and analyzed for nitrate. The Iowa Learning Farms team is comparing the amount of nitrate in the subsurface water for corn vs. soybeans, and single cover crop vs. a cover crop mixture vs. no cover crop.

There are five sites where the Iowa Learning Farms team has collected water quality data for three years now: ISU Research Farms at Lewis, McNay, Crawfordsville, Kanawha, and Nashua. Each site has 24 plots (and thus 24 lysimeters), with 12 plots each for corn and soybeans. Within each cropping system, there are three treatments: plots with no cover crops, plots with a single cover crop (oats before corn; rye before soybeans), and plots with a cover crop mixture (oats, hairy vetch, and radish before corn; and rye, rapeseed, and radish before soybeans).

 Data are collected about eleven times per year from each lysimeter (from approximately April through November, as the weather allows). This all adds up to a lot of data to analyze–almost 800 samples per year!

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We had ten of these big spreadsheets, plus summary sheets, by the end of the process!

Jessica and I compared the lysimeter results from one plot with itself throughout the year, from one plot with a certain treatment to other plots with the same treatment, as well as comparisons between treatments. We also looked at precipitation data and the volumetric water content at 12 and 24 inches deep in the soil, measured at each site (from Iowa State Agclimate Automated Weather stations). We lined up the data from the lysimeters with the precipitation and volumetric water content data at each site to look for patterns and correlations.

Analyzing data was a fun and challenging experience. It was fun to figure out how what would be interesting to look at and compare, and how to best present the data. As we worked through the data, we kept coming up with more ideas for what to do with it and what graphs to make.

Our preliminary results indicate a positive water quality benefit comes from using a cereal rye cover crop ahead of soybeans. Cover crop mixtures can also help, but so far, across multiple sites, we have found that having a single species cover crop of rye ahead of soybeans is the most effective treatment for having a low amount of nitrates leaving the field. Preliminary results from Kanawha are shown below as an example. Since I do not know what a statistical difference between measurements would be, I cannot claim any definite results of the data yet.

Kanawha Preliminary ResultsThe water quality trends were less clear with corn. While a single species cover crop (oats) is also the most effective for corn, it is far less effective than rye is for soybeans. The cover crops used ahead of corn (oats, hairy vetch, and radish) all either die off over the winter OR yield very little spring growth. The biggest difference in the soybeans was the use of cereal rye and its winter hardiness — the spring cover crop growth made a huge difference in terms of water quality benefits! As the rye on the soybean plots has more to time grow in the spring, it uptakes more nitrate. Corn is planted earlier in the season, so if rye were growing prior to corn, it would have to be terminated earlier, yielding less benefit for the nitrate uptake by the cover crop.

Ideally, the amount of nitrate leaving the field (represented by the water that a lysimeter collects) would be low. Nitrate is most useful on the farm field, as it is dangerous in high concentrations to humans and pollutes water. Depending on the final results of the data, this research could potentially be used to show how and which type of cover crops are most effective in holding the nitrate in place without letting it move into water sources.

IowaNutrientReductionStrategyThis research and its results are important for water quality across the state of Iowa. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy aims to reduce nutrients in water coming from point sources, like wastewater treatment plants, and nonpoint sources, like farms. A high concentration of nutrients can cause hypoxia, a condition of an area of water that cannot support marine life because it does not have enough oxygen. Hypoxia is a problem in the Gulf of Mexico, and currently the states along the Mississippi River have (or are working to develop) nutrient reduction strategies to help solve this.

This research is made more relevant with the current lawsuit between Des Moines Water Works and three Iowa counties. The Des Moines Water Works uses the Raccoon River for their half million consumers, and they want the amount of nitrates coming from farms in the counties to decrease.

Farmers can make a huge impact on the amount of nitrate in water. I attended a meeting of the Ames City Council in the spring, and the Water and Pollution Control Administration presented to the Council. They could put $36 million into reducing nitrate leaving their facility, but there would be little overall effect. Since farms contribute 92% of the nitrogen load, while municipalities only contribute 8%, we need to consider how much focus there is on reducing the contribution from the point source pollution sources in the municipalities as well as on farms. The research that we are doing will hopefully help show farmers that cover crops are a great way to reduce the amount of nitrate leaving their fields, while also helping to build soil health and protect our soil from erosion.

Overall this internship has been very influential in what I am interested in. I am undecided on what I would like to major in at WashU, but I know that I would like to continue studying science and the environment, including taking a class on environmental science. I care about protecting the water, soil, and climate, and this internship has helped me to realize that.

Emily Rehmann

Getting Dirty and Getting Samples

My name is Mary and I am a high school intern with Water Rocks! this summer. I have always been interested in natural resources, and I will be pursuing a degree in Natural Resources and Environment Science with a concentration on Resource Conservation and Restoration Ecology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign this fall.

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I have had so many great opportunities and experiences with Water Rocks! this summer. I have been able to participate in multiple outreach events at county fairs and farmers markets across Iowa.  I have also had the opportunity to attend a farmer field day discussing everything anyone would want to know about cover crops.

Mary-ConservationStationMost recently I was able to go up to Nashua and collect water samples from lysimeters at the Northeast Research Farm. Our lysimeters are buried 24” deep and collect water from the surrounding soil.  The water samples are then tested to see the nitrate levels in the water at different times during the year and under different cover crop treatments. This research is very important in helping us better understand cover crops – they are one of the key practices in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, where the goal is to try and reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus loads in Iowa waters by 45%.

The plots from which we collected water samples were each 6 rows wide – and we have plots that are in both corn and soybeans (rotated every other year). The entrance to the research farm is a couple of buildings, and then it moves straight into the research plots.  We had to drive a little ways to reach our lysimeter plots. There are many other research plots around our lysimeter plots. All of our fields were no till fields – some of them had cover crops in the spring (single species/mixtures) and some did not. We started collecting samples from the soybeans first, and then moved to the corn.

Lysimeters-InGroundCollecting water samples is quite simple, but finding the lysimeters when the crops are large isn’t always a piece of cake!  The lysimeters are buried underground, so all we can see is the PVC cap protecting it … and sometimes they get covered with soil or are hidden by residue.

Lysimeters-SuppliesOnce we have found the lysimeters, we grabbed our equipment which included a plastic beaker with a rubber stopper on top and a long thin tube attached, an air pump, plastic bottles to pour collected samples into, and a clipboard with labels to mark the samples.

Lysimeters-SamplingInProgressWe collected the sample by inserting the thin tube down into the lysimeter, attaching the beaker to the air pump, and applying vacuum to the lysimeter so the water would be sucked out.  After the sample was collected, we would have to apply vaccum to the lysimeter again (60 psi) so it could collect the next batch of samples.

Collecting clean samples is a key component.  If there was soil in the water sample, how would we know that the nitrates in the water weren’t from the soil?  I was out collecting samples the day after a big rainstorm, and of course it was really muddy out, so we had to be extra careful to keep the soil and mud off of the equipment used to collect the samples.  If we collected a dirty sample, then it would have to be filtered in the lab before the nitrate test could be done accurately.  Also, after every sample is collected, the plastic collection beaker must be rinsed out with DI Water (deionized water), so the next sample wouldn’t be contaminated by the previous sample.

Seeing the lysimeters and collecting water samples was very educational for me, and I was glad that I had an opportunity to see what research is being done and how it is done.  I learned how thorough you have to be when conducting research – there can be lots of variables in the field so quality control is really important.  I was also surprised by how dirty I was on the way home after collecting all of the samples!

So now we’ve collected water samples… next they go to the lab for nitrate testing. After that, there are lots of water quality data to analyze. Stay tuned to the blog as Emily, another high school intern, will tell us more about that process!

Mary-ShowingPigsBooneCoAs a fun side note, I wanted to share another one of my projects for this summer. In addition to this internship, I am a member of the Gilbert FFA Chapter and I recently showed pigs at the Boone County Fair (I’m number 344 in the blue shirt). That pig in the picture will be making an appearance at the Iowa State Fair – the show is on August 12th if you’d like to stop by and watch after you visit Farm Bureau Park and check out the Conservation Station!

Mary Marsh