What We Do
On-Farm & Environmental Research
Cover crops are grasses or other vegetation farmers plant before, during or after the harvest season. Cover crops have many benefits including erosion control, water retention, weed suppression, improving nutrient uptake and building of soil organic matter. ISA Research teams work with farmers to adopt cover crops into their operations.
Habitat restoration transitions environmentally-sensitive land from agricultural production to diverse native plant species. The presence of native perennials improves environmental quality as well as pollinator and wildlife habitat. Cost-share programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) are in place to help compensate landowners for taking these marginal crop areas out of production.
This emerging practice converts 10 percent of a crop field with strategically-placed strips of native perennials. The practice has been shown to reduce soil erosion by 95 percent and reduce nitrogen lost through runoff by 90 percent. It also improves habitat for pollinators such as butterflies and bees. For more information on prairie strips, visit www.prairiestrips.org.
Conservation drainage practices reduce nitrate losses through several drainage system modifications and edge-of-field practices. Systems include: controlled drainage or drainage water management, drainage water recycling, bioreactors, saturated buffers, wetlands and shallow drainage.
The North Central Region Water Network is a group of extension professionals and ag organizations including the Iowa Soybean Association. The group created a materials kit detailing information on these types of drainage water management. Visit their webpage that contains materials for “Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest.” Materials include a booklet, 4-page fact sheet, PowerPoint slides and a walk-through guide.
Conservation Consulting & Planning
Individual farms can benefit from a conservation assessment, which identifies opportunities for improving agricultural production and natural resource management. ISA staff work one-on-one with farmers and landowners to create a personalized conservation assessment.
A watershed plan provides a roadmap for water quality improvement projects. Through ISA’s leadership, many watershed groups in Iowa have gone through the watershed planning process to develop watershed improvement plans.
Value of a watershed plan:
- Set continuous improvement goals and measure effects
- Interface with government programs
- Identify both short- and long-term plans/goals
- Plan risk management/alternative scenarios
- Provide summary of existing management to determine how new tools and technologies can improve management or measurement
- Demonstrate and verify conservation success to landowners, peers, industry personnel and the public.
The watershed planning process assesses current conditions, develops goals for water quality, outlines strategies to reach the goals and estimates the resources necessary to implement the plan.
Water monitoring is a way to assess field, farm and watershed conditions. Working with farmers, landowners and partners, ISA collects and analyzes thousands of water samples per year from tile lines, streams and rivers. The information gathered from water monitoring helps individuals make better decisions on the farm and in watersheds across Iowa.
Much of the data gathered at the farm or field scale is used to evaluate the performance of conservation and agronomic practices implemented by farmers. Data collected from rivers and streams is used to prioritize sub-watersheds, develop scientific publications and establish data necessary for long-term trend analysis.
All data gathered by ISA is protected by data use policies and agreements.
Replicated Strip Trials
ISA’s On-Farm Network and Analytics teams conduct replicated strip trials allowing farmers to test products and practices on their own operations under their own management systems. The minimum number of replications for each trial is four. This ensures that each treatment covers the different soil types and drainage patterns that may be within each field. Additional aerial imagery, soil sampling, weather and scouting data is also collected when relevant to improve the helpfulness of the research results.
For an in-depth explanation of how and what trials are conducted, read the Farmer’s Guide to On-Farm Research.