Constructed wetland in Iowa

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)

Defining a decade, conservation field days

April 26, 2023 | Kriss Nelson

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) farmers are doing their part to highlight the momentum made in the past 10 years of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) by hosting the public to their farms as part of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance’s (IAWA) Defining Decade field day series.

“When we started thinking about the 10th anniversary of such an important framework for Iowa’s water quality, we thought what a better way to provide education than seeing it for yourself,” says Rebekah Jones, director of communications for IAWA. “We want community members and leaders to come out and see what practices farmers are implementing to improve water quality. There are also ways communities can support their farmers and downstream water. Some partnerships featured in these field days are proof of that.”

Evan Brehm, ISA conservation agronomist, witnesses daily how farmers are working toward the 45% reduction in annual nutrient loss set by the INRS.

“Cover crops have increased over the past 15 years, exceeding 2.5 million acres,” he says. “Farmers and agronomists have become more knowledgeable on how to manage cover crops. Cover crops have shown to suppress weeds which can reduce herbicide passes. Cover crops have also shown to sequester excess nutrients that would otherwise enter our streams, which has enhanced water quality leading to reaching the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

Farm the best, restore the rest

The series of field days begins on May 5 with a visit to Tim Recker’s farm near Arlington. Visitors will have the chance to see a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetland and how it has affected water quality.

Attendants will gain a cab’s eye view of precision technology and learn how the equipment is used for planting and fertilizer applications. RSVP here.

Clean water = good beer

May 12, join IAWA and ISA at Chuck White’s farm near Spencer to learn about cover crops, how he uses manure as his primary nutrient source, and no-till and strip-till to be environmentally responsible.

“This is a good way for me to explain how my operation is involved with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, what we are doing to be good stewards of the land, and how we are always looking at better ways to be sustainable,” says White.

To help manage nutrients under guidelines set by the INRS, White has been growing cover crops for the past decade.

“The cover crops will capture any nitrates left in the soil from the corn, so it does not leach away,” he says. “Cover crops are important for that. It keeps the nutrients on the farm and improves water quality.”

White is very conscious about not over-applying fertilizer. He ensures he applies the manure correctly and takes advantage of the late-spring nitrate test to determine if any additional nitrogen is needed for his corn crop.

“From that test, we determine how much residual nitrate we have in the soil, and then we only apply the amount of nitrogen needed,” he says. “That is environmentally responsible and profitable. Farmers don’t want to apply more nutrients than the crop needs.”

Following a visit to White’s farm, visitors will head to West O Brewing for pizza and a brewery tour highlighting the ingredients of water and grain. RSVP here.

Cities and farms working together

The May 16 event will showcase how cities and farms can work together, highlighting the city of Cedar Rapids’ support for conservation practices.

Brehm is helping to host the event that begins at 9 a.m. at Greene Square Park in Cedar Rapids, with a stop at two farms, including an up-close look at a wetland, cover crops and prairie strips.

“It’s important to show what farmers are doing in agricultural production – especially regarding caring for water quality in the Middle Cedar watershed, which feeds into the city of Cedar Rapids,” he says. “This tour will show the support of the city of Cedar Rapids and how urban and rural areas can connect because we all care about water quality.”

On the tour, visitors will pass by sites designated as stops for the Cover Crops in Action tour, showcasing cover crops and edge-of-field practices such as a bioreactor and saturated buffers.

“All three conservation practices are helping to reduce nitrates from getting into our streams, and there are cost-share programs available for all of those potentially up to 100 percent,” says Brehm.

Lunch will be provided. For those interested in learning more, there will be a Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) showcase and Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) networking event following the meal. RSVP here.

Batch and build, a model for success

A “Batch and Build” model developed in Polk County will be the highlight of the field day on May 24, held on Lee Tesdell’s farm near Slater.

The model helps speed up edge-of-field practices, such as saturated buffers and bioreactors. This batching strategy has led to a 650% increase in edge-of-field practices.

There will also be a hayride tour of conservation practices, including a pollinator habitat and prairie ground.

In-field conservation practices such as cover crops, no-till and strip-till and precision technology, bioreactors and saturated buffers on the edge of the field and wetlands all play a critical role in improving water quality and reaching INRS goals.

“We hope people not only see what those practices are firsthand but also learn about what it takes to implement them on the farm, what barriers farmers face, and how they can overcome them,” says Jones. We are far from being done ramping up these practices and can’t wait to continue into the next decade." RSVP here.