ISA team member in soybean field

(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Research Center for Farming Innovation prepares for 2023 and beyond

December 1, 2022 | Kriss Nelson

The Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI) strives to deliver the best farmer-led research combining agronomic, conservation and analytics tailored to soybean farmers.

RCFI’s on-farm research program and the conservation and cropping system implementation coincide with achieving those goals.

The on-farm research program leverages data and information to support technical assistance and outreach. Simultaneously, the conservation and cropping system implementation teamwork serves to improve soil health and water quality, resiliency of cropping systems, and create profitable opportunities for Iowa farmers.

“With the vision and support of our board of directors, we have been building a legacy of leadership and implementation initiatives for over 20 years,” says Roger Wolf, RCFI codirector of conservation and cropping systems implementation. “We leverage the investment of the soybean checkoff along with other funding. We work to meet the needs of farmers through research, then transfer that research to move a whole system forward.”

Restored pollinator habitat in Iowa

On-farm research program

Research trials in 2023 will have a significant focus on conservation, specifically looking into how to use cover crops as a tool for managing nutrients, says Joe McClure, RCFI co-director of on-farm research.

Trials will include managing manure as a nutrient source, blending cover crop usage for improved profitability, relay cropping and precision cover crop trials.

SCN survey

To help combat a pest costing Iowa farmers more than 50 million bushels a year, RCFI announced a collaboration with Iowa State University (ISU) to understand soybean cyst nematode (SCN) infestation populations on farms in Iowa in 2022.

“On average, SCN is prevalent in 75% of all fields in Iowa. Most farmers deal with it whether they know it or not,” says McClure. “Through the SCN survey, we are trying to understand that prevalence and develop a protocol to help farmers manage SCN through seed treatments or varietal selection and determine which process has the best return on investment.”

Fungicide trials

RCFI is focusing on fungicide trials, helping farmers decipher what fungicides — new or existing — are effective.

“We will be studying fungicides on soybeans to understand their efficacy,” says McClure. “Is there a return on investment? We want to understand how they work.”

Long-term cover crop trials

With 17 locations across the state, long-term cover crop trials will continue in 2023.

“We think cover crops can be a critical tool in productivity, profitability and sustainability on the farm,” says McClure. “We must show how they perform in different scenarios.”

Technical assistance

ISA’s agronomist network will continue to help farmers become aware of conservation opportunities.

“Our on-farm research and data have enabled the conservation agronomists to help farmers be successful as they implement conservation practices,” says Wolf.

RCFI has eight conservation agronomists partnering with seven retail outlets across Iowa. There are plans to add conservation agronomists and increase relationships with ag retailers in 2023.

Since implementing the conservation agronomists program in 2019, more than 1,000 one-on-one farm visits have been conducted. Conservation agronomists have reached 10,000 farmers via events and outreach. This has resulted in the adoption of more than 50,000 acres of cover crops, 9,037 acres transitioned to no-till or strip-till, 5,000 acres of improved nutrient management and installation of 68 edge-of-field practices.

“In 2023, we would like to double the cover crop implementation to 100,000 acres install an additional 20 edge-of-field practices, improve nutrient management on 2,500 more acres, and transition 3,000 more acres to no-till and strip-till,” says Wolf.

Integrating habitat into the landscape, enabling stacking of practices and achieving net conservation benefits are also planned for 2023, Wolf says. This includes an estimated 20 new oxbow restorations and more than 20 acres of pollinator habitat.

“In the case of oxbows, farmers are treating water in the landscape and creating a habitat for the Topeka Shiner,” says Wolf.

Restored oxbow on farm

Grassroots advocacy

In 2022, RCFI conducted six grassroots meetings involving farmers, trusted advisors and partner collaborators.

“From these meetings, RCFI is collating priorities and developing new implementation initiatives to leverage on-farm research and other support programs,” says Wolf.

These gatherings are also helping the ISA and RCFI team identify 40 local champions for this year’s Iowa Front Forty advocacy initiative.

Collaboration continues

McClure says RCFI will increase the collaborative nature of their projects in 2023 and beyond.

“The theme moving forward is collaboration. It will give us better and more trusted answers if we partner with more individuals in more organizations,” he says. “We feel that collaboration with Iowa State University and ag programs at other educational institutions will lead to the best research and information for our farmers.”

Relationships with industry partners, including Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and supporting Regional Conservation Partnership Programs, are essential to RCFI’s success.

“We recognize we are part of a bigger community,” says Wolf. “We are working with downstream partners and other stakeholders to bring positive changes important to Iowa and, frankly, the nation.”

McClure says the RCFI team of agronomists and researchers is focused on increasing research on soy productivity while working on projects that address the success of the entire cropping system across Iowa.

“ISA has the research on the ground for agronomic purposes and conservation implementation and an analytics team to move this forward,” McClure says. “This combination is a great advantage for us. We have a seat at the table most organizations don’t have because of the great work the team has done over the last 20 years.”

Opportunities to Participate

RCFI is actively seeking participants for various projects and have begun initiating 10 projects in preparation for the 2023 season. These projects build on collaborations with Iowa State University and industry partners to leverage soy checkoff funds to ensure the most significant impact possible. Projects blend corn-specific, soy-specific and those looking at the entire soy/corn cropping system to enhance productivity and adopt sustainable practices. The projects include:

  • Blend Cover Crop Usage on Manured fields
  • Blend Cover Crop Usage for Improved Profitability
  • Characterizing and Calibrating the Value of on-the-go Manure Constituent Testing - ManureSense
  • IA Nitrogen Initiative — Multi Rate N
  • INRC Fate of Manure
  • In-Season Manure via 360Rain
  • Long Term Cover Effect on Soy/Corn
  • Precision Cover Crop w/ AGCO
  • Relay Cropping
  • SCN Fall 2022 Survey Sampling