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Farmer advice on water quality practices

Article cover photo
Farmers discussed water quality practices and shared their advice during the ISA Research Conference held Feb 7-8 in Des Moines. (Photo: Joseph Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Dorothy Tate, ISA public relations manager

Farmer engagement is essential for improving water quality. Three farmers from different regions of the state shared their experiences and advice on a panel at the ISA Research Conference held Feb. 7 and 8 in Des Moines.

Wayne Fredericks, a farmer from Osage and member of the Rock Creek Watershed project encouraged farmers to not be afraid of water monitoring, because it can serve as a benchmark to track your progress and help inform decisions.

“Until you understand where you are on that map, you don’t have a grasp of where you need to go,” Fredericks said. “What I learned from tile monitoring has drastically affected what we do. Once you know where you are, you can decide what you can do on your farm.”

Mark Schleisman, a farmer from Lake View and member of the Elk Run Watershed project, shared his experiences with cover crops and how he has been able to use cover crops as a grazing option for his cattle herd in the fall and winter.

Arvin Vos, farmer from Pella and member of the Van Zante Creek Watershed, valued the increased organic matter he saw from using cover crops.

“With cover crops the level of management goes up,” Vos said. “But increasing organic matter is important and can be a good legacy to leave for future generations.”

Vos noted he thought cover crops were a challenge to get started because of the management challenges, but found no-till was an easy entry point into conservation work.

Fredericks agreed that conservation tillage was a “no-brainer” and once he set his mind to it he found adopting other practices was easier.

Conversely, due to Schleisman’s operation specifics — he grows a lot of popcorn — he cited no-till as the hardest practice to adopt, but found filter strips, waterways and terraces a good starting point. Last year, Schleisman was also able to install a bioreactor and saturated buffer on land he farms in the Elk Run Watershed.

All three agreed getting all farmers in a watershed involved is key. When it comes to involving the whole community, communication is critical.

“It takes a face-to-face with the majority of farmers out there because many primarily communicate by talking to each other,” Schleisman said. “People are watching what other farmers are doing. There’s a group that is curious and a group that is negative, but, fortunately, the negative is getting less and less.”

Vos echoed the need to involve the group and shared some optimism about progress.

“It has to come from your heart, that’s where it has to start,” Vos said. “You have to really enjoy working with other people. It’s exciting!”

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at

©2017 Iowa Soybean Association On-Farm Network®. All rights reserved. On-Farm Network® is a registered trademark of the Iowa Soybean Association, Ankeny, IA.Portions of some On-Farm Network trials are paid for in total or in part by the soybean checkoff.

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Iowa Soybean Review

August 2017 Contact Ann Clinton for past publications.