Chris Hay, Iowa Soybean Association, stands in a bigger

Chris Hay offers timely tips for best practices when adding conservation and water quality practices to their farms. (Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Manual aids in conservation practice decision making

November 19, 2020

Iowa farmers can use a free, online resource offering best practice management recommendations as they contemplate adding water quality and conservation practices to their operations. Chris Hay, a senior research scientist with the Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI), recently discussed the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual during an Iowa Learning Farms’ webinar.

Hay provided an overview of several conservation practices, including bioreactors, saturated buffers, wetlands, and controlled drainage, and how a tool called a decision tree can help farmers weigh the pros and cons of each practice.

“We wanted to take those conservation conversations and boil them down to an easy-to-understand tool for farmers,” explained Hay. The manual offers a decision tree set for farmers and landowners and another for conservation professionals.

A decision tree lets farmers map out the possible outcomes of a series of related choices. It helps farmers select in-field or edge-of-field conservation practices that best fit their land and management interests. 

“As an example, a farmer can consider a bioreactor. There are several questions to ask,” offers Hay. “Is there an area near an outlet to install one? If yes, then move to the next question. Are there surface intakes? If no, are there opportunities for sediment control and move on to ask if the drainage outlet is 10 inches or less. If that answer is positive, the area is a good one to consider for a bioreactor.”

“Some options, such as controlled drainage, simply require more active management,” says Hay. “And other areas need certain slopes or flatness. We want to help farmers set themselves up for success.”

The full manual is available as a free download from the ISU Extension Store or the Iowa Learning Farms website. View the complete webinar here.