15 Years of Iowa Learning Farms

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On Wednesday, Jacqueline Comito discussed the evolution of Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) over the past 15 years in an Iowa Learning Farms webinar. She talked about how ILF is doing in achieving its mission of creating a “Culture of Conservation”, shared some results on conservation practice adoption and described some of the new goals and challenges that the future holds. Has ILF been successful in building a Culture of Conservation? Yes, in short, but there is still a lot of work to do!

“To build a Culture of Conservation means that conservation will be at the heart of everything we do,” said Comito. Over the years ILF has used field days to help develop this culture and has figured out what methods work to make field days successful. Through evaluation and observation, ILF wrote the book on how to host a successful field day and hopes that this method will be widely adopted by those who host their own field days.

ILF Field Days Slide

ILF has reached many people through its field days over the years, as can be seen in the above graphic, which doesn’t include 2019 field days/workshops. One key component of ILF field days is the evaluation done, which has allowed ILF to compile years of useful data, including tracking practice adoption. The graphic below shows where the adoption of some conservation practices fall in the “Diffusion of Innovation” model developed by E.M. Rogers. According to ILF estimates, cover crop usage is in the “early adopters” category, with no-till/strip till already reaching in to the “early majority”. Newer edge-of-field practices like bioreactors and saturated buffers haven’t yet made it off the starting line.

ILF practice adoption slide

In order to help work to meet the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals and continue to be successful over the next 5-10 years, ILF is striving to

  • Increase the number of ILF field days and workshops in order to:
    • Expand the number of early adopters for cover crops
    • Increase the number of middle adopters for no-tillage and strip tillage
    • Increase the number of innovators for edge-of-field practices
  • Nurture relationships with conservation-focused farmers across the state who are willing to host field days
  • Rejuvenate the farmer-partner program with new voices
  • Focus on the “why” of conservation practice implementation to create a greater sense of urgency behind building soil health and improving water quality
  • Advance robust community outreach statewide with the Conservation Station trailers

To learn more about ILF’s successes, growth, impacts and challenges, watch the recorded webinar and check out the “Building a Culture of Conservation – 2004-2019” 15-Year report.

Join us next month, on Wednesday, September 18 at noon, when Emily Heaton, Associate Professor at Iowa State University, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “Integrating Perennials into Underperforming Parts of Fields Could Improve the Farm Economy, Water Quality, and Bioenergy Feedstock Production”.

Hilary Pierce

August 21 Webinar: 15 Years of Iowa Learning Farms

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Tune in on Wednesday, August 21 at 12:00 p.m. when Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar about the evolution of Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) over the past 15 years and what new goals and challenges the future holds.

“ILF started with a simple idea: Building a Culture of Conservation in Iowa through helping farmers talk to other farmers about protecting Iowa’s soil and water,” said Dr. Jacqueline Comito, Iowa Learning Farms Program Director. “Through the years our tactics and tools have evolved, but the fundamental strategy of applying a multidisciplinary approach to increase adoption of conservation practices has led to increased practices and greater natural resource protection.” Comito will discuss ILF’s approach to outreach and education, and will also reference the “Building a Culture of Conservation – 2004-2019” 15-Year report, which was published in March 2019.

The 15-Year report highlights the program’s successes, growth and impacts, as well as some of the challenges faced and goals for the future. Some key findings from the report include that ILF farmer partners have expanded to included 88 farmers located in 51 Iowa counties, field days have grown from 5 to 32 annually and have engaged over 32,500 attendees, and cover crops were planted on more than 880,000 acres in 2018. These findings and more will be discussed during the webinar.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, August 21, 2019
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars 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:
https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Hilary Pierce

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Measurement Project: Tracking Progress Towards Iowa’s Water Quality Goals

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Today at noon, Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, discussed the progress and challenges of Iowa’s water quality improvement efforts.

Nowatzke_photo thumbnailThe webinar covered how progress towards the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) is measured, how much progress has been made and what challenges remain. The NRS is a science-based strategy to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources. Nowatzke shared a brief history of the measurement tracking associated with the NRS and then discussed the recently published 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report.

She explained how the NRS uses a logic model framework to track quantifiable change in inputs, the human dimension, land use and water quality. The 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report shows an increase in funding for conservation practices and programs, mostly due to an increase in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) rental payments. It also shows an increase in outreach and education events. Farmer attitudes towards and awareness of the conservation efforts is being measured through a five year survey. Summaries of the survey results for two HUC6 watersheds are available in the report.

INRS Logic Model

Image from the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy: 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report

Nowatzke also described how conservation practices are tracked, including the tracking of CRP land retirement, cover crop use, and the installation of bioreactors and saturated buffers. Water quality progress is assessed using a two-pronged approach of measuring nutrient concentrations in surface waters and modeling nutrient loss reductions that are associated with different conservation practices.

To learn more about how progress towards meeting the NRS goals is measured, how much progress has been made and the challenges that remain, watch the recorded webinar!

Join us next month, on Wednesday, August 21 at noon, when Jacqueline Comito, Iowa Learning Farms Program Director, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “15 Years of Iowa Learning Farms”.

Hilary Pierce

July 17 Webinar: The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Measurement Project: Tracking Progress Towards Iowa’s Water Quality Goals

Join us on Wednesday, July 17 at noon, when Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar about the progress towards Iowa’s water quality goals.

Nowatzke_photo thumbnailHow many acres of cover crops are planted each year in Iowa? Are extended rotations and perennials increasing? Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, will discuss the progress and challenges of Iowa’s water quality improvement efforts by addressing these questions and others. Find out how progress is measured, where to find the data, and what questions remain about Iowa’s water quality improvement.

“Water quality challenges are on the minds of many Iowans. In this webinar, I hope to shed light on where we’re currently seeing progress in conservation practice adoption and where there are still challenges,” said Nowatzke. She hopes that webinar attendees will understand how conservation practice adoption in Iowa is tracked, the “bright spots” and challenges of water quality progress, and where to find data and information about Iowa’s water quality improvement efforts.

A Certified 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 the credit will be provided at the end of the presentation.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, July 17, 2019
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars 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:
https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Hilary Pierce

Drainage Water Recycling: An Emerging Conservation Drainage Practice

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On Wednesday, during an Iowa Learning Farms webinar, Chris Hay, Senior Environmental Scientist at the Iowa Soybean Association, discussed current drainage water recycling research.

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.

Hay described drainage water recycling as a multiple “win-win” scenario, where the farmer is able to address excess water in the spring and fall through drainage, but also during dry periods in the summer by using the captured drainage water as supplemental irrigation. The practice can also prevent loss of nutrients downstream and captures water containing both nitrogen and phosphorus, while many other other conservation practices only address one nutrient of concern. The practice can also lead to a flood peak reduction and have positive impacts on downstream water quantity.

Current research projects at sites around the Midwest have been looking at yield increases with the supplemental irrigation that drainage water recycling supplies and have found that during dry years they saw a 50% corn yield increase and a 29% soybean yield increase. Hay stated that although the idea of drainage water recycling is not new, it is an emerging conservation practice that has attracted more attention recently and that more research is needed to understand the benefits and economics. To learn more the ongoing research, visit the Transforming Drainage website.

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

Join us next month, on Wednesday, July 17 at noon, when Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Measurement Project: Tracking Progress Towards Iowa’s Water Quality Goals”.

Hilary Pierce

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

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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 www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars 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:
https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Hilary Pierce

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

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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