Cover Crops for Better Corn and Soybeans

Our webinar on Wednesday featured Sarah Carlson, Strategic Initiatives Director at Practical Farmers of Iowa, who explained how cover crops and be a win-win for cash crops and the environment.

Cover crops can address water quality concerns, reduce soil erosion, and improve soil health. The figure above, from Carlson’s presentation, shows the effectiveness of cover crops at reducing nitrate in tile lines (10 mg/L is the drinking water standard). Despite these long term benefits, cover crops are not a widely used practice.

During the webinar, Carlson explained that low cover crop adoption may be linked to the amount of rented farmland in Iowa. Due to the nature of renting, renters need to see benefits to cover crops “tomorrow” rather than over the long term. Messaging about the benefits of cover crops that focuses on long term benefits will not increase adoption in areas where the majority of farmland is rented.

Carlson shared the highlights from several research projects that assess the more immediate benefits of cover crops. These short term benefits include reduced herbicide costs, weed control, as well as the effect of different cover crop termination dates ahead of soybean planting on yield. The results of these projects have indicated that cover crops can reduce herbicide costs (in some instances paying for themselves with the savings) and can offer weed control in the instance of herbicide-resistant plants.

To learn more about these research projects, their results, and the benefits of cover crops, watch the full webinar!

Join us on Wednesday, November 4 for a webinar with Adam Schnieders, water quality resource coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, titled “Nutrient Reduction Progress at Iowa Wastewater Treatment Facilities.”

Hilary Pierce

New DNR Watershed Positions – Apply Today

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) just announced two new DNR watershed positions for which they are now accepting applications. These positions are to support the Black Hawk Lake and Dry Run Creek Section 319 Watershed Projects PLUS to support source water protection planning and implementation work in adjacent counties surrounding the project locations.


Sac County Job Opportunity:

Position: Environmental Specialist  – Water Quality Bureau

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a job vacancy for an Environmental Specialist position, within the Watershed Improvement Section of the Water Quality Bureau located in Sac City, IA. This position is responsible for: serving as Watershed Project Coordinator, responsible for planning and implementing water quality improvement project activities, providing technical assistance, and communicating with other project coordinators and stakeholders. 

Job Number:       21-01034
Location:             Environmental Services Division, Water Quality Bureau, Sac City, IA 
Hours:                 M-F, 8 am – 4:30 pm, with some travel and evenings and overnight stays.
Closing Date:      November 9, 2020 – 11:59 p.m. 

For specific job duties, requirements, and application information, visit: Sac County Position


Black Hawk County Job Opportunity:

Position: Environmental Specialist  – Water Quality Bureau

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a job vacancy for an Environmental Specialist position, within the Watershed Improvement Section of the Water Quality Bureau located in Waterloo, IA. This position is responsible for: serving as Watershed Project Coordinator, responsible for planning and implementing water quality improvement project activities, providing technical assistance, and communicating with other project coordinators and stakeholders.  

Job Number:       21-01033
Location:             Environmental Services Division, Water Quality Bureau, Waterloo, IA 
Hours:                 M-F, 8 am – 4:30 pm, with some travel and evenings and overnight stays.
Closing Date:      November 9, 2020 – 11:59 p.m. 

For specific job duties, requirements, and application information, visit: Black Hawk County Position


Questions can be directed to Allen Bonini, Supervisor, Watershed Improvement Section: allen.bonini@dnr.iowa.gov or 515-725-8392

Virtual Field Day November 5: Exploring Impacts of Cover Crops, Tillage & N-Inhibitors on Crop Performance and Water Quality

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day exploring impacts of cover crops, tillage and nitrogen-inhibitors on crop performance and water quality on Thursday, November 5th at 1 p.m. CST. Join us for a live conversation with Matt Helmers, Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Emily Waring, Graduate Research Assistant, and Carl Pederson, Agricultural Specialist in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University.

Since 1989, research focused on the effects of nitrogen (N) management on crop production and tile drainage water quality has been conducted in north-central Iowa near Gilmore City. In 2010, the treatments were changed to examine the impacts of cereal rye winter cover crop vs. no rye (with and without tillage), conventional tillage vs. no-till, and timing of N-application and use of nitrification inhibitor. Through extensive data collection and monitoring, the team is measuring the impact of these practices on nitrogen and phosphorus loss and crop yield.

Matt Helmers and Emily Waring at the Gilmore City Research Plots

“This long-term dataset allows us to examine the impacts of conservation practices under a range of weather conditions. We have measured cover crops as an effective practice in reducing N loss from the cropping system,” says Helmers.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on November 5th, 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

Virtual Field Day October 29: Touring Iowa’s Forests

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day offering a tour of Iowa’s varied forests on Thursday, October 29th at 1 p.m. CDT. Join us for a live conversation with Billy Beck, Iowa State University Assistant Professor and Extension Forestry Specialist, Joe Herring, Iowa Department of Natural Resources District Forester, and Riggs Wilson, Wildlife Management Institute Forester.

The virtual field day will offer an opportunity to tour common forest types and explore the value they bring to the landscape. From floodplain forests to working trees in a windbreak, trees provide a variety of ecosystem services like wildlife habitat and improved water quality as well as the potential to harvest trees for added economic value. The field day will also highlight the importance of management for long-living, healthy forests.

Billy Beck and Riggs Wilson exploring the oak savanna that will be featured in the virtual field day

“There is often confusion of what management means to maintain a vibrant forest that provides great value to the landowner,” noted Beck. “This field day will explore options for managing a variety of forest types found in Iowa to help landowners identify strategies for doing so on their property.”

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on October 29th, 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

The Halo Effect: Do Short-Term Watershed Project Successes Lead to Long-Term Continued Successes?

Our webinar on Wednesday focused on a project that assessed the long-term continued success of three different voluntary watershed management approaches.

Jamie Benning and Dr. Jacqueline Comito, both with Conservation Learning Group, shared an overview of the project and discussed how the short-term and long-term success of watershed management projects can be assessed. For the project three watersheds where different watershed management projects have been implemented were compared to nearby watersheds that have not had recent watershed management projects.

Slide from Benning & Comito’s presentation showing their criteria for short-term success
Slide from Benning & Comito’s presentation showing their criteria for long-term success

In the summer of 2018, Benning and Comito conducted listening sessions with farmers and landowners in the three watersheds with watershed management projects. During 2019, they surveyed farmers and landowners in the watersheds, and compared each watershed to a nearby, similar watershed. The comparison was done both in terms of resources that farmers and landowners can access and land characteristics.

Their assessment of the success of the watershed projects showed that although the projects had a degree of short-term success, that this did not necessarily translate to long-term success.

The halo effect and watershed projects, slide from Benning & Comito’s presentation

Benning and Comito then asked the webinar participants to consider if it’s possible to build a better watershed project, one that supports both short-term and long-term success. To learn more about this research project, watch the full webinar here!

Join us on Wednesday, October 21 for the webinar “Sustainable Weed Management Solutions for Iowa Corn and Soybean” with Prashant Jha, associate professor and extension weed specialist at ISU.

Hilary Pierce

October 14 Webinar: The Halo Effect: Do Short-Term Watershed Project Successes Lead to Long-Term Continued Successes?

A project that assessed the long-term continued success of three different voluntary watershed management approaches is the topic of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar scheduled for noon on Wednesday, October 14.

Jacqueline Comito

This project, funded by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, looked at differences in structural practice adoption and through quantitative analysis of practices in the watershed and qualitative assessment of farmers’ attitudes and behaviors toward water quality, conservation and participation in watershed projects.

In order to assess the effectiveness of the three different voluntary watershed management approaches, the team evaluated three sets of comparison HUC 12 watersheds, three HUC 12 watersheds where different watershed projects have been implemented and three nearby HUC 12 watersheds that have not had recent watershed projects.

Jamie Benning

Through mailed surveys and listening sessions, Jamie Benning and Dr. Jacqueline Comito, both with Conservation Learning Group, listened to farmers and landowners in the three watersheds about their current farming practices. Do these watersheds who were successful in the short-term benefit from a “halo effect” in the long-term? Benning and Comito will also discuss recommendations to improve water quality improvement efforts in Iowa.

Conservation Learning Group is a collaborative team to advance training, outreach, and research across land uses and production systems to increase overall sustainability of agricultural and natural systems for multiple generations to come.

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on October 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.

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 webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Virtual Field Day October 15: Mitigating Flooding and Improving Water Quality in the Upper Wapsipinicon Watershed

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day highlighting public and private partnerships aiming to reduce flooding and improve water quality in the Upper Wapsipinicon River Watershed on Thursday, October 15th at 1 p.m. CDT.

Join us for a live conversation with Tori Nimrod and Ross Evelsizer, Upper Wapsipinicon River Watershed Coordinators with Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development and Luke Monat and Daniel Jensen, engineers at Shive-Hattery Inc. Architecture & Engineering.

Tori Nimrod and Ross Evelsizer, Upper Wapsipinicon River Watershed Coordinators with Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development highlighting one of their projects in Quasqueton

The virtual field day will offer a closer look at a current wetland project in Quasqueton that is designed to reduce flash flows during heavy rainfall events. The small wetland will reduce flows from the capture zone by around 50% during a 100 year flood event or a 6.6 inch rainfall event. A goal for the Upper Wapsipinicon Watershed Management Authority (WMA) is to implement 28 projects on both private and public properties that will help to mitigate flooding in the watershed.   

“Watershed management is a long-term process, and the Upper Wapsipinicon is only in the beginning phases of that process. The projects implemented as a part of the Iowa Watershed Approach Project will help build flood resilience for watershed residents in the future,” noted Nimrod.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on October 15th, 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

October 7 Webinar: Choosing an Edge-of-Field Practice: Decision Trees Can Help

Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar on Wednesday, October 7 at noon about using decision trees to help choose an edge-of-field practice.

Edge-of-field practices, such as bioreactors, saturated buffers and wetlands, can effectively address water quality concerns, but it is important to select the right practice for your site and goals.

Chris Hay, Sr. Manager—Production Systems Innovation with Iowa Soybean Association, will cover the basics of edge-of-field practices and some of the siting considerations for the different practices during this webinar. Hay will also discuss decision trees that can help farmers, landowners and conservation professionals select an edge-of-field practice.

The decision trees were developed as part of the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual. The full manual is available as a free download from the ISU Extension Store or our website https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/.

“Edge-of-field practices are some of the best performing water quality practices, but it can be confusing to know what practices will work at a particular site,” said Hay. “These newly developed decision trees can help both farmers and conservation professionals select edge-of-field practices that best match their situation.”   

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12:00 pm CDT on October 7:

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 (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

Hilary Pierce

Virtual Field Day September 24: Manure Application Considerations During Dry Soil Conditions

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 best management practices for applying manure in dry soil conditions on Thursday, September 24th at 1 p.m. CDT. Join us for a live conversation with Brian Dougherty, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Field Agricultural Engineer.

Maximizing the nutrient availability and retention of applied manure for the upcoming crops begins with proper handling and application to the land. During dry conditions, it is even more important as those nutrients are especially vulnerable to being flushed from the system during future rain events. Dougherty led a study at the ISU Northeast Research near Nashua to examine the effect of manure application timing and cover crops on yields and drainage water quality. During the virtual event Dougherty will be share results from that project and similar projects, as well as provide best management practices for applying manure for the upcoming crop year.

“This field day will give producers some tips on planning ahead for fall manure applications. We will discuss some challenges specific to applying manure in very dry conditions as well as the benefits of using manure and cover crops together as an integrated system for improving utilization of manure nutrients,” noted Dougherty.

To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CDT on September 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

Long-Term Impacts of 4R Nitrogen Management Practices and Cover Crops on Nitrate-N Loss

Iowa Learning Farms hosted a webinar on Wednesday about the impacts of nitrogen management practices and cover crops on downstream nitrate-N loss. Matt Helmers, Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, explained long-term research that monitors drainage water quality at five sites throughout Iowa. The 4Rs of nitrogen management discussed during the webinar are right source, right rate, right time, and right place.

Corn yield at one of the research sites, comparing fall, spring, split, and no nitration application over five years (image from Helmers’ presentation)

Helmers shared results of the corn yield comparing fall, spring, split, and no nitrogen application over five years at one of the study sites. There was no statistical difference between the yields when nitrogen was applied (with lower yields when there was no nitrogen applied). Applying nitrogen closer to when crops take it up has the potential to reduce nitrogen loss. Flow-weighted nitrate-N concentrations for the corn and soybean phases over 2015-2018 are shown below.

Timing of swine manure application and use of a cover crop was studied at another one of the research sites. Increased loss of nitrate-N when injecting manure soon after soybean harvest was seen, but this loss could be mitigated by using a cover crop. There was a benefit to late fall manure application to both nitrate-N loss and corn yield seen as well.

Flow-weighted nitrate-N concentration comparing swine manure application timing and cover crop use, 2016-2019 (image from Helmers’ presentation)

Helmers shared a 10-year summary of nitrate-N loss that compared continuous corn, continuous corn with a cover crop, prairie and fertilized prairie. He also discussed the impacts of dry conditions on nitrate-N loss, showing data from 2013, the year after the drought of 2012, which saw an increase in nitrate-N loss. Cover crops were shown to reduce the nitrate-N loss and could be effectively used following dry periods.

To learn more about this research, watch the full webinar here!

Join us next week for a webinar with Billy Beck titled “Lessons From the Derecho: Addressing Storm Damage and Working Towards Resilient Forest and Tree Resources”. Beck is the Extension Forestry Specialist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State University

Hilary Pierce