Juchems Receives Outstanding New Professional Award at ISU

It’s May and that means it is American Wetlands Month. Normally, I would want to try to make my argument once again about how landowners should consider giving wetlands a second look on their land. Wetlands are a key component to Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy (learn more in Jake Hansen’s blog post titled Iowa CREP Wetlands) and often when farmed aren’t profitable (Should prairie potholes and other wet areas be farmed?). I know there is a history between landowners, wetlands and government regulation that sticks in many craws. But if we care about a sustainable and healthy Iowa, we need to rethink those issues going forward. Wetlands have important jobs to do in Iowa.

Instead of writing that column, I am dedicating this space to Iowa Learning Farms staff member, Liz Juchems, for recently receiving an Iowa State University Professional and Scientific Outstanding New Professional Award. This award reflects Liz’s commitment to Iowa State, her professional reputation and her esteem among her peers.

I have known Liz since she began working for the Iowa Learning Farms in 2008 as a student hourly employee while a freshman at ISU, and have been fortunate to work with her as our events coordinator since 2013. If you have been to any ILF field days over the last four years, you have Liz to thank for their quality and effectiveness.

Liz joined the team at a time when the ILF and Water Rocks! programs were starting to see substantial growth. Liz assumed not only the responsibility for coordinating farmer field days, but also coordinating all incoming requests for Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! community outreach events (school visits, camps, youth outdoor classrooms, farmers markets, festivals and more) that are received annually – no small task with hundreds of event requests each year.

Over the last four years, the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! programs have grown significantly and have become widely recognized flagship conservation programs across Iowa. This is due in large part to Liz’s tremendous ability to keep track of details and ensure positive, clear communication internally and externally. We now average 30+ field days and 200+ outreach events each year, reaching 20,000+ people each year in quality educational encounters across Iowa!

With Iowa Learning Farms, Liz has also been instrumental in taking on a leadership role with field research/demonstrations, data collection, communications and outreach delivery. Since her hiring in 2013, the field research/demonstration arm of the Iowa Learning Farms has seen significant expansion and diversification, thanks in large part to being awarded multiple new research/demonstration grants. Each of these funded proposals involved the establishment of different cover crop trials across Iowa, collectively adding 20 new field research/demonstration sites statewide. Liz took the reigns as the farmer liaison, coordinating all project details with participating farmer-partners and research farm staff, as well as coordinating field data collection efforts with Iowa Learning Farms staff and student interns, training her co-workers on the appropriate protocols to follow both in the field and in the lab to ensure successful data collection.

However, data collection is just one portion of the job –another major component is how that content is delivered to the general public, making often complex science, social science and economic data accessible to farmers, other conservation stakeholders and youth across the state. A good example of her work is the ILF publication series titled Talking With Your Tenant that offers talking points and relevant research findings about a number of different conservation practices. Liz has grown into the role of being one of our team’s key educators on conservation issues in the state of Iowa.

For these and so many other reasons, Liz is more than deserving of this prestigious university honor. Quite simply, she is excellent! We are grateful to have her as a member of our team. Congratulations, Liz!

Jacqueline Comito

Iowans Walk on the Wild Side

In my first year in Iowa, I’ve found an engaged and motivated citizenry that values wildlife and their habitats. No wonder – Iowa has produced a disproportionate number of 20th century leaders in wildlife conservation, including William Hornaday, Jay “Ding” Darling, John Lacey, and Aldo Leopold. Proof of this commitment lies in Iowan’s support for each of our 99 locally funded County Conservation Boards, a model unique and perfectly suited for the state.

Further proof lies in the outcome of a 2010 vote where 63% of Iowans voted in favor of a self-imposed tax and constitutional amendment to provide permanent funding for natural resource conservation and education. Additionally, a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 1.3 million people in Iowa participate in wildlife-associated recreation and spend $1.5 billion doing so annually. Wildlife and wildlife habitats matter to Iowans, our economy, and our land.

Plenty of challenges remain. The meritorious work of public and non-governmental entities to preserve unique habitats in our state only amasses to about 3% of the land area.  Between one and two million acres are annually enrolled in federal conservation practices that provide wildlife habitat. But even when combined with lands in public ownership, these conservation lands are only a drop in the bucket of Iowa’s 36 million acres. Thus, the challenge of preserving our rich wildlife heritage rides on the backs of the collective impact of small actions taken by all landowners in our state.

Wildlife conservation challenges are driven by changes to natural ecosystems in our agricultural landscapes. This is where the opportunities lie, because just as wildlife populations track changes in natural ecosystems, so too do many other important ecosystem services. Wildlife are thus one additional beneficiary of sustainable land use practices and should therefore serve as one more bargaining chip in extolling the benefits and promise of conservation efforts that unite every sector and every resident in Iowa.

We’ve all got a stake in this, and as we see improved soil health and water quality, we’ll see more pheasants and meadowlarks. That sounds like a win-win to me and I’m excited to learn how I can collaborate with the Iowa Learning Farms in the years to come.

Adam Janke

Dr. Adam Janke recently joined the ILF team in an advisory role, and will be a regular contributor to the ILF blog. Hear more of Janke’s perspectives on conservation and wildlife issues on the Conservation Chat podcast!

Wildlife Specialist joins ILF Team

Iowa Learning Farms is thrilled to announce the newest addition to its team, Dr. Adam Janke, joining the ILF team in an advisory role. As an Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Janke offers unique perspectives on conservation, wildlife, and working lands that will compliment the work ILF is doing across the state to build a culture of conservation.

Growing up in a duck hunting family, his conservation ethic and passion for wildlife, especially waterfowl, certainly run deep.

Janke has Midwestern roots as a native of Indiana, and his educational pursuits have taken him on a journey across much of America’s heartland, including stops at Purdue University (BS), Ohio State University (MS), and South Dakota State University (PhD). Having recently completed his first full year at Iowa State University, Janke is now the GO-TO GUY for all things wildlife in the state of Iowa, whether it be bats in the attic, chronic wasting disease in deer, or managing for habitat within our vast working lands across Iowa.

You can get to know Adam Janke and his vision for wildlife habitat integrated within agricultural working lands through the Conservation Chat podcast.  Tune in to Episode 29 of the Conservation Chat, just recently released, to hear Janke’s perspectives on wildlife habitat, conservation and more.

Janke addresses the connections between hunting and wildlife conservation, a rich legacy across North America of sustainably managing populations and sustainably managing the lands they live on. He also shares perspectives on how ducks and other waterfowl, over the years, have been great catalysts for wetland protection and practices that support water quality. While still early in his career, Janke shares long-term goals for increasing wildlife habitat across Iowa, in partnership with ILF and beyond …

When listening to the podcast, it’s pretty clear that Dr. Janke is super enthusiastic about what he does! And we are super enthusiastic about him joining the ILF team. Keep an eye out for his friendly face at upcoming field days, on our blog and E-newsletter, and we’ll also be working together on the Master Conservationist program (and more) in the coming months.

Welcome, Adam!

Ann Staudt

Saving the world with giant grasses

This could well be Dr. Emily Heaton’s personal motto, as she works to better understand the ins and outs of growing Miscanthus giganteus, a giant grass with outstanding bioenergy potential!  Heaton is an Associate Professor of Agronomy at Iowa State University, and much of her miscanthus research is being done collaboratively with the University of Iowa, through their Biomass Fuel Project.

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you’ve heard a little bit about this great synergy in an earlier September blog post titled A Cy-Hawk Collaboration on Conservation. Here’s your chance to dig in deeper, as this month’s Conservation Chat podcast features an engaging dialogue with Emily Heaton as well as Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, Environmental Compliance Specialist with the University of Iowa.

conservationchat-miscanthusBack in 2010, the University of Iowa set 7 sustainability targets for its campus and its operations, one of which is to acquire 40% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Their Biomass Fuel Project officially got underway in 2012, and the partnership was underway – working with not just ISU, but public and private entities to start growing miscanthus grass as a bioenergy feed source on land within a 50 mile radius of Iowa City. There are currently 500 acres of miscanthus being grown, with the goal of getting to 2500 acres.

Miscanthus offers great potential as a bioenergy crop because it is a very high yielding perennial crop, and while not native to Iowa, it is sterile so that eliminates the potential for spreading/invasiveness. Further it can offer numerous benefits to the Iowa landscape in terms of both water quality and soil health!  I like Heaton’s analogy that the rhizomes of the miscanthus plant act a lot like rebar does in concrete – adding great structural stability to the soil, minimizing erosion, and the deep roots helping to build soil organic matter.

There are numerous benefits to miscanthus in Iowa, but also a whole handful of challenges when introducing a new crop: figuring out how to best grow it and harvest it (timing is critical), developing a market and creating a business structure for miscanthus, and operational challenges of utilizing biomass as a fuel source in facilities that were designed for coal!  Gronstal Anderson and Heaton reflect on these challenges, opportunities, and more in this month’s Conservation Chat podcast – listen at www.conservationchat.org or on iTunes.

Finally, FYI, today is also International Podcast Day! It’s a day dedicated to promoting podcasting worldwide through education and public engagement. In celebration, check out previous episodes of the Conservation Chat for engaging dialogue about all things water, soil, and conservation across the state of Iowa, or share a favorite episode with family or friends.

Ann Staudt

 

Chatting with Seth Watkins: Curiosity, Creativity and Happy Cows

The latest episode in the Conservation Chat podcast series features an engaging interview with Seth Watkins of Pinhook Farm, near Clarinda in southwest Iowa. Watkins has a 600-head cow-calf enterprise and takes a whole farm approach to conservation: rotational grazing, wetlands, late season calving, and row crops integrated with prairie strips and cover crops.

Program Director Jacqueline Comito interviewed Watkins earlier in May after we had completed a farm tour-slash-field trip with a small group of Corning Elementary students (read more about it in our blog post ILF Partner Seth Watkins hosts 3rd Grade Field Trip).

ConservationChat-Watkins(angle)

This Conservation Chat episode is enjoyable and thought-provoking throughout– it’s a fascinating discussion about agricultural production, sustainability, curiosity, continual learning, and striving to make rural Iowa a better place to live.

“When you invest in the land, your community prospers.”

What really stood out to me is Seth’s spirit of innovation, determination, and constant learning. Grandson of Jessie Field Shambaugh, widely known as the Mother of 4-H, Seth is truly a modern-day Renaissance man!

“So much of what I’ve learned, and I continue to love to read different aspects of history, economics, things about art, about thinking… those are what have really driven the success of my farm business.”

Listen to the full interview with Seth Watkins on the Conservation Chat website, ILF website, or iTunes.

And for another fun perspective on Seth’s farming operation, check out Episode 23 in the Adventures of the Conservation Pack! Conservation dog Charlie gets to go on an adventure exploring Seth’s pond and learning about how it reduces erosion, filters water, and provides habitat.

Ann Staudt

Food for Thought

As Christmas is now in the past and we turn our minds to 2016, here is a provocative article published in the Washington Post: 10 Things We Should Do to Fix our Broken Food System. Check out the screen shot below for a sneak peek; clicking on the screen shot will take you to the full Washington Post article.

“In this end-of-the-year wrap-up, Tamar Haspel, a food writer for The Washington Post, lays out her 10 things we should do to change a broken food system – 10 changes she says could have a ripple effect, changes that would beget others. She begins with what the government could do: Develop a best-practices standard that could be codified and certified, so farmers who use best practices could attract customers willing to pay more for foods grown that way; Move to crop neutral insurance; Overhaul the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program so that it ensures Americans have access to healthful foods; and, Teach food in schools. Next, Haspel addresses what she would like to see food manufacturers do, which is a lot, but she confines herself to two: Use source as a selling point; and, Label everything. As for consumers, she says to vote with your wallet, get closer to food, and cook. Lastly, Haspel looks to farmers, and in this case, looks for a way to give farmers the help they might need to make changes, such as creating a market for crops and animals raised with attention to the rights of farmworkers, the welfare of animals, and the impact on the planet. And create a standard that allows them to charge more for products raised according to higher standards. On the flip side, she says, stop creating incentives for farmers to grow a few commodity crops at a large-scale, and with little thought to environmental repercussions. Finally, everyone, she says, needs to come to the table and engage in a more inclusive, constructive conversation.” – Article Summary by Meridian Institute

Happy New Year!

Jacqueline Comito