Iowa Soybean Association staff member

(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Conservation and research opportunities abound

March 15, 2023 | Jeff Hutton

Improving productivity, profitability and sustainability is at the heart of research and conservation opportunities through the Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI).

Earlier this month, RCFI staff shared insights into those opportunities during the Innovation to Profit webinar.

RCFI Conservation Agronomist Ben Porepp asked webinar participants to consider these questions:

  1. What opportunities exist on my farm (conservation, improving yields, research)?
  2. What can I learn from my farm?
  3. What’s your game plan for your farm? How are you going to take that next step?

An example of RCFI’s conservation efforts is working with farmers/landowners on oxbow restorations.

Porepp says restoring oxbows are beneficial in a number of areas – restoring the natural flow of the stream, positively impacting soil, water quality, restoration of wildlife habitat and more.

RCFI, he adds, offers information about the restoration process as well as funding resources – both state and private dollars – that can push those efforts forward.

There’s also pollinator planting, like oxbow restoration, helps with water quality and improves wildlife habitat.

Water quality, being key, brings up water monitoring. Porepp says RCFI/ISA can help monitor what is happening on fields throughout the state. The organization is always looking at neighboring groups of farmers to research and compare what might be happening from one field to the next.

“We want to help you minimize nutrient loss – keeping your nutrients and your dollars in the field,” Porepp says.

Getting involved in these research efforts can take money.

Porepp says, however, there are multiple entities and organizations that provide cost-share programs that can help.

“There’s never been a better opportunity than now,” he says.

Organizations like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) are just a few that can assist. Porepp says RCFI and the ISA can help with those connections.

Cost-share programs can add value, he says, whether it’s oxbow restoration, cover crops, edge-of-field saturated buffers, bioreactors and more.

Porepp says RCFI is committed to helping farmers with the technical assistance they seek while being a full partner throughout the conservation efforts.

“We’re going to be there from the time you call through the whole implementation process,” he says. “We’re here to make sure you’re successful.”

Upcoming opportunities

Porepp and RCFI Field Services Program Manager Alex Schaffer says ISA farmer-members are encouraged to learn more about conservation efforts through a number of programs and trials.

Cover crop tours in 2023 is one example where farmers can learn about existing plots across Iowa in terms of species planting, seeding rates, applicable dates and more.

Porepp says these tours showcase the different ways to do conservation, while highlighting the variety in seeding and plants, such as rye and radish, rye and turnip, clover mixes, winter camelina, rapeseed etc.

“We’d like to have more plots to see what species might work on your farm,” he says.

Schaffer says research opportunities like these allow RCFI to “dig into the data” and see what works and what doesn’t.

“It’s really interesting to me that there’s opportunity to combine conservation work with agronomy … the intersection of conservation return on investment is very tangible here,” he says.

Schaffer also echoes Porepp in that RCFI is always looking for more participants in these trials, especially moving forward this year and in 2024.

Whether it’s relay cropping, seeding rates, evaluation of new cover crops and blends, new seed treatment for soybean cyst nematode (SCN) or your own ideas, Schaffer says now is a good time to get involved.

Wrapping up

Porepp says ag producers wanting to establish a game plan in pursuit of conservation should follow these steps:

  1. Identify conservation goals.
  2. Reach out to a conservation agronomist: “We’ll be there throughout the process … we’re going to be there from the phone call to the end.”
  3. Determine a solution.
  4. Develop a site specific implementation plan.
  5. Explore cost-share opportunities: “We can help you with that; what fits for what your goal is.”
  6. Implement plan: “The conservation team is here to make sure it’s successful.”
  7. Lean on RCFI: “We have the research, the analytics, the conservation expertise – we have the resources to put it all together.”

Roger Wolf, the RCFI co-director for conservation and cropping systems, says RCFI is ready to work for and with soybean producers on conservation and research.

“We’re unique because of the assets we have internally,” he says. “Don’t hesitate to connect with us … we’re happy to talk new ideas on your farm. We’re guided by farmer leadership and our focus is very farmer-centric, unbiased data and information, we lean forward ...

He says RCFI is on the “frontier of driving continuous improvement on the productivity, profitability and sustainability” of Iowa’s soybean farms. 

Those who missed the Innovation to Profit webinar the first time or want to revisit, can go to the ISA's YouTube page or watch it below.