Alex Schaffer presenting on research to farmers

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association/Julia Edlefson)

Collaboration begets improved water quality

June 8, 2023 | Julia Brenizer

Collaboration is helping farmers implement practices that work to improve water quality.

This week, the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) hosted the “Paving the Way in Relay Cropping and Water Quality” event in Atkins at Textile TapHaus. Farmers and industry partners gathered to learn about the benefits of relay cropping to both farmers and residents.

Relay cropping is a practice in which a second crop like soybeans is planted into a first crop like wheat or rye. The first crop is harvested during the growing season before the second crop reaches a certain height. Relay cropping increases moisture retention in the soil, suppresses weeds, and reduces nutrient loss, explained ISA Conservation Agronomist Evan Brehm.

ISA Water Lab Service Manager Tony Seeman shared water monitoring data in the Middle Cedar Watershed. On-farm data shows that regenerative practices on farms result in the farm ecosystem being more resilient, says ISA Research Agronomist Alex Schaffer. There is less variability, meaning the crop can handle weather extremes better than before.

Collaboration is at the heart of improving water quality and farming practices. ISA and its partners are dedicated to working together to bring funding and technical assistance to Iowa farmers.

“This will be a team effort,” says ISA Farmer-Member Loren Steinlage, who utilizes several regenerative ag practices including intercropping on his farm near West Union. “I’m willing to put everything I have on the line, but we need others to get involved.”

People who live near and facilitate the Middle Cedar Watershed are enthusiastic about improving water quality. The Cedar River Water Source Partnership (CRWSP) unites the city of Cedar Rapids, ISA, local cooperatives, and many other partners. They offer funding and technical assistance for farmers to improve water quality and public health.

“The City of Cedar Rapids had a choice. They could either sit back and hope for improvement, or they could roll up their sleeves and contribute,” says Mary Beth Stevens, Watersheds and Source Water Program Manager with the City of Cedar Rapids.

Now the city is a model for others when it comes to upstream-downstream partnerships (To learn more about the City of Cedar Rapids and its work with farmers and other partners, watch this video).

If you want to try relay cropping or other conservation practices on your farm, ISA currently has research trials and cost-share opportunities. For more information, go to to contact ISA agronomists and others.