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Ag's Clean Water Alliance extends dialogue at Iowa Water Conference

Article cover photo
Agriculture retailers Gregg Schmitz, Kent Klingbeil, and ACWA chair Harry Ahrenholtz conduct a workshop at the Iowa Water Conference. The conversation was structured around engaging agribusiness in water quality and conservation delivery. (Photo courtesy of Hanna Bates, Iowa Water Center).

By Carol Brown, ISA environmental communications specialist

Conservation professionals, agriculture retailers and farmers agree that adopting conservation practices is crucial for water quality improvement. They also agree there are risks for both the farmer and the retail agronomist.

These stakeholder groups met at a workshop hosted by Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) during the annual Iowa Water Conference held recently in Ames. The workshop — one of five at the conference — focused on engaging agribusiness in water quality programming and conservation delivery.

ACWA Executive Director Roger Wolf moderated the workshop. Harry Ahrenholtz, ACWA chair; Kent Klingbeil, Landus Cooperative; and Gregg Schmitz, Nutrien Ag Solutions, each provided context of their experiences of working to advance conservation in the Raccoon and Des Moines River watersheds, then facilitated small group discussions with workshop attendees.

“For ag retailers, we work with farmers on what and how they are farming,” Schmitz said. “From the environmental perspective, we need to focus on the answer as to “why conservation?”, as farmers need solid reasons for embracing and adopting practices. Getting to the root of why conservation practices are needed will help all of us work toward improving soil health and water quality.”

The workshop participants divided into three groups to develop more intimate dialogue regarding how agribusiness could intersect with conservation delivery. They also discussed barriers that conservation professionals perceive for working with agribusinesses and ways to overcome them. Watershed coordinators and farmers represented the bulk of the group of nearly 50 people and used the opportunity for frank discussions.

Similar key words or phrases emerged within the conversations. For example, education and communication were repeated as well as the idea of removing boundaries, or entrenched silos, to work together and collaborate.

Workshop attendees were understanding of the position that retail agronomists are frequently in. Crop advisors must manage many variables and some of them are conflicting when it comes to conservation.

“There is risk of an agronomist introducing a practice like cover crops and if it fails, will they lose a loyal customer?” one participant asked.

Another believed that educational institutions “are not training agronomists with a systems approach to agriculture that brings in the important values of natural resources.”

Some solutions offered, beyond increased communication, included more coordinated field days or demonstrations for cooperators with conservation as part of the agenda, adding a third party to the ag retailer arena such as a conservation consultant and even incentivizing retail staff.

The attendees arrived at the general consensus that knowledge and communication between ag retailers, landowners and farmers will serve all stakeholders as they move forward to improve Iowa’s rivers and streams.

ACWA, founded in 1999, comprises ag retailers in the Raccoon and Des Moines River watersheds who work together to improve their clients’ productivity as well as the quality of Iowa’s river and streams. Since the introduction of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy in 2012, the organization has sensed the growing tide of Iowans who are prioritizing clean water in the state and downstream. The organization believed their presence at the Iowa Water Conference was a pivot point for increased collaboration between agriculture retailers, conservation professionals, farmers and landowners.

Contact Carol Brown at cbrown@iasoybeans.com.

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