Results of Our Work


ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation is taking on-farm research opportunities to the next level for Iowa farmers. More than 80 programs and projects are conducted annually. There’s no shortage of opportunities to get involved with ISA and learn about tools that can save you time and strengthen your productivity and profitability.

Put our tools and services to work in your fields by participating in on-farm research trials. Your membership also provides access to the association’s robust database which includes research trials and results from farmers across the state and nation.

Cover Crop Net Return Economic Simulator

Cover crops have the potential to be a financial asset when managed well.  The online “Cover Crop Economic Simulator”, developed as part of an Iowa NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, will help to illuminate which management strategies will make them pay in your operation.  The tool is designed for farmers, landlords as well as the general public interested in measuring the environmental and economic outcomes of cover crops. 

Based on partial budget economic analyses of cover crops, this unique, interactive simulator shows visual illustrations of estimated outcomes based on a range of market prices and provides examples of cost offset opportunities and their impact on revenue, creating a sensitivity analysis of net return.

This tool provides an easy starting point for those unfamiliar with cover crop management, as well as a useful platform for long-time cover crop beneficiaries. All formulas can be viewed, and input values edited and results automatically recalculated.  Revenue sources have quick-select options to offset base costs, which can also be tweaked to reflect the specific programs available in your area. 
Beyond farm revenue and land value increase, we also want to raise awareness of the societal benefits you and your community will reap from cover crops. Some of these things are more difficult to tie directly to your bottom line in dollars and cents, but their value is no less real, tangible, or meaningful.

Launch Simulator       Or watch a "How To video" for this tool.

Soybean Quality Economic Simulator

The potential marketing benefit to farmers from advanced knowledge about soybean quality before entering it into the supply chain is significant and has strong implications for the competitiveness of US soybeans entering both local and international supply chains and markets.
This tool allows the simulation and visualization of potential economic return from protein premium payments based on soybean quality. It also allows user input to adjust factors such as soybean grain price, expected yield, yield change and the premium payment amount. 

Launch Simulator

Interactive Summaries of On-Farm Strip Trials: ISOFAST

This online interactive tool is designed to provide individual and aggregated summaries of on-farm trials conducted by farmers working with ISA. On-farm trials include replicated treatments, or strips, that test different products, practices or technologies in Iowa cropping systems. Data available includes the trial description, trial locations, observed weather and results. Users can select or deselect years by checking boxes on the legend.

Launch ISOFAST     Or watch a "How To" video on utilizing the economic analysis feature.

 Vegetation Index Time Series Interactive Tool: VITSIT

The Vegetation Index Time Series Imagery Tool (VITSIT) was developed to:

  • Communicate the differences between uncalibrated and calibrated imagery sources;
  • Report time series of different vegetation indices of crop canopy to identify within-field yield corn and soybean variability zones;
  • Identify whether temporal patterns for different vegetation indices change during and across growing seasons;
  • Report correlation between yield and vegetation indices from the beginning to the end growing season;
  • Identify how rainfall changes imagery calibration quality and correlation with yield.

Launch VITSIT      Or watch a "How To video" for this tool.

 Soybean Variable Rate Planting Simulator

Before flying solo, student pilots use a flight simulator. Why not use a similar approach when deciding whether to use soybean variable rate seeding? With user inputs of historical soybean yield, seed cost, and expected yield response, the tool simulates different variable planting rate scenarios to maximize return and minimize cost.

Launch VRP Simulator.      Or watch a "How To video" for this tool.

View the user manual here.

 Replicated Strip Trial Individual Field Reports

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. 

The replicated strip trial database contains summaries of individual trials following On-Farm Network protocols. The summaries include essential management information, spatial yield data, and imagery. Scouting, soil and tissue sampling reports are included if available. The interface allows users to query by year, crop, trial type/detail and location. Trial reports have had farmer-identifying information removed.

View Database

Stream Water Monitoring

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.

In 2011, ISA began analyzing water samples in its accredited water lab. The lab is certified by the EPA through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to analyze E. coli, nitrate, nitrite and fluoride under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Ion chromatography is used for the common nutrients of nitrate, nitrite and phosphate as well as fluoride, chloride and sulfate. E. coli bacteria are quantified using the IDEXX Quanti-Tray® most probable number method.

Other tests conducted in the lab as needed include turbidity (a measure of water clarity), alkalinity and hardness as well as ammonia nitrogen. The lab is routinely audited and uses third party proficiency testing to ensure accurate operation.

Tile water sampling results are sent to growers regularly, and stream sample results are summarized and posted annually.

All data gathered by ISA is protected by data use policies and agreements.

Data collected from rivers and streams is used to prioritize sub-watersheds, develop scientific publications and establish long-term trend analyses. The information also can be used to develop and fine-tune the performance of conservation edge-of-field practices such as bioreactors, saturated buffers and targeted wetlands. Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) contracts with ISA to ensure this level of water sampling continues in priority watersheds.

View Results

 Conservation Profitability Research

Cover Crops
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
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. 

Prairie Strips
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
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.

Transforming Drainage is a 5-year, 8-state project led by a core group of 15 leading agricultural engineers, soil scientists, agronomists, economists, social scientists, and database and GIS specialists with a common vision — to transform the way drainage is implemented across the agricultural landscape. 

Visit the the Resources & Publications page for more resources.

Conservation Consulting and Planning

Conservation Assessments
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.

Production goals and resource concerns are unique to every farm. Individual farms can benefit from a conservation assessment, which identifies opportunities for improving agricultural production and natural resource management. Many strategies are available to reduce negative impacts on soil and water as well as improving farm productivity.

With clear goals, it is possible to accurately measure improvements, experiment with alternative practices, authenticate conservation successes and understand where new technologies and opportunities fit within defined goals. ISA staff work with individual farmers and landowners to assess each farm for optimum results.

 

Watershed Plans
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. Visit our Resources & Publications page to read some of the completed watershed plans or contact ISA for more information about a conservation assessment for your farm: research@iasoybeans.com.

Transforming Drainage Rate Calculator

This tool calculates three drainage rates recommended for characterizing subsurface (tile) drainage systems:

  • Drainage intensity, which is a measure of the rate water can move through the soil to the drains,
  • Drainage coefficient, which is a measure of the capacity of the drainage system to deliver water to the outlet, and
  • Kirkham coefficent, which is the drainage rate under ponded conditions

The tool is designed primarily for researchers, engineers, drainage contractors, and educators, but it may also be useful for farmers who want a deeper understanding of their drainage systems. 

Launch Calculator              View more information here.