Making ag-urban connections one person at a time09/03/2019 | Crop Production Research, Soil Health, Water Quality
By Carol Brown, ISA environmental communications specialist
Robb and Jennifer Ewoldt are acutely aware of the water quality challenges that Iowa is facing. A scope of their farm shows no-till and strip-till practices in place, as well as a focus on nutrient management and pollinator habitat. They understand that others have questions about what farmers are doing to help meet the goals under the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
Recently, the Ewoldts hosted an open house on their farm to discuss water quality and their efforts to support the goals outlined in the strategy. The event was sponsored by River Action, an organization in the Quad Cities created to help protect and restore the Mississippi River. The group is a big proponent of creating awareness and adoption of sustainable practices that enhance the river.
The Ewoldts are row crop and livestock farmers near Davenport, just outside the Quad City area. They regularly open their farm to the public for learning opportunities; this is the third time in four years they’ve hosted a group for River Action. Robb spoke to a group of 16 people about his farming operation and the things the family is doing to be good stewards of the land.
“I want to help people who don’t farm to understand that what we’re doing here improves the quality of the land and the water,” Ewoldt said. “I want to show them we are making a difference and regulation isn’t the simple solution. Farming and the issues we face are complicated.”
The event was informal, with guests seated on hay bales asking Ewoldt questions as quickly as they could think of them. They learned about corn-soybean rotations, strip-tilling, cover crops, bioreactors, and more. Topics ranged from manure management to GMOs to the current tariffs on soybeans. Ewoldt addressed them all.
Farm improvements for the environment
The Ewoldts are growing corn, soybeans, hay and alfalfa on approximately 1100 acres. They also raise hogs and have a cow-calf operation. They use no-till and strip-tillage, as well as cover crops and the 4Rs of nutrient management — right source, right amount, right time, right place. They’ve retired unproductive land into buffer strips and pollinator habitat plots. A few years ago, they installed a bioreactor.
“My big thing is to keep carbon in the ground and to build organic matter in the soil,” Ewoldt said. “The more organic matter I have, the better crop productivity there is.”
One of the guests commented that there are a lot of good things happening on the farm and hoped other farmers were following suit.
“We’re getting there,” Ewoldt said. “There’s a lot of interest and curiosity. My neighbors were really interested in seeing the bioreactor installed, which is just one of the reasons why we put it in. There wasn’t one in the area. We wanted to show what they were all about.”
Ewoldt remarked that it was performing well, with nitrate entering the bioreactor at around 6 milligrams per liter (mg/l) and exiting the structure at 2 mg/l.
“The nitrate levels to begin with are below industry limits, which is 10 mg/l, but the bioreactor is working,” Ewoldt said.
Moving the mindset
By hosting large and small groups of people on their farm, the Ewoldts are providing an educational service to their neighboring urban residents at the grassroots level. They are also providing an education for their two sons, aged 10 and 12, about the importance of soil health and water quality.
“These two guys get it. They know more about land stewardship and soil health now than I did at age 18,” Ewoldt said. “I’m optimistic about the future and the next generation who will be farming.”
The Ewoldts and the River Action group are local examples of the One Water movement: creating awareness, informing and improving water quality for everyone.
The upcoming One Water Summit, sponsored by the U.S. Water Alliance, will be held in Austin, Texas, in mid-September. The Summit brings together people like those who visited the Ewoldt farm to become more informed about the many water issues the country faces including storm water and wastewater management, flood mitigation, nutrients in rivers and streams and more. The Summit attendees pledge to take the ideas gleaned from the event back to their respective locations to create action for improvement. Staff at the Iowa Soybean Association will again be included in the Iowa delegation at the One Water Summit.
Water quality is important to the Ewoldt family, as evidenced by the practices in place and the conversations they hold with visitors to their farm.
“It took 150 years to get to the state of water quality we’re in now and the fixes can’t happen overnight,” Ewoldt said. “It’s like eating an elephant, you can’t do it all at once.”
For more information about River Action, visit their website.
For more information about the U.S. Water Alliance, go to: http://uswateralliance.org/
Contact Carol Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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