Soil conservation demonstrations extended after early success

Water that washes off of farm fields poses major challenges for water quality in Iowa (flickr).

Julia Poska | February 7, 2019

Last week, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig announced a three year extension and $2 million of extra state funding for three innovative projects promoting soil conservation and water quality on farms.

These projects  are part of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative, which partially funds 65 water quality projects around the state. This initiative is part of the larger Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, an effort to reduce harmful nutrient runoff from farm fields into waterways.

The Taylor County Water Quality Initiative, one of the three extended projects, identifies specific areas on farms that could benefit from alternative practices like land retirement or drainage management. Over 60 farmers have so far used the program to reduce nutrient runoff while maintaining or increasing profitability.

The Iowa Seed Corn Cover Crops Initiative engages partners like the Iowa Seed Association to encourage cover cropping: growing alternative crops on otherwise bare soil during the off season. Cover crops hold soil in place and can help with weed management and soil compaction issues. Some seed companies say this initiative has increased cover cropping among their clients from less than 10 percent to over 50 percent.

The Central Iowa Watershed Management Authority Project has so far installed five wetlands, five saturated buffers and two bioreactors on farms. Saturated buffers use strips of wetland to filter nutrients from drainage water, and bioreactors use organic carbon sources, like wood chips, for denitrification. Both are expensive and difficult for most farmers to install without assistance.

Iowa Water Quality Initiative projects like these are funded by both state and private money, as well as in-kind donations. Other active projects target entire watersheds and demonstrate methods for improving urban water quality.

Water quality a top issue at 2014 Iowa Farm Bureau convention

Wetlands (such as this one) have been used in Iowa as a way to reduce the amount of nutrient runoff that pollutes Iowa's waterways. (Green Fire Productions/Flickr)
Wetlands such as this one have been used in Iowa as a way to reduce the amount of nutrient runoff that pollutes Iowa’s waterways. (Green Fire Productions/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 4, 2014

Water quality was a major focus at the annual Iowa Farm Bureau convention which took place in Des Moines this week.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Annual Meeting 2014: Seeds of Growth included two days of educational seminars, panel discussions, and a concert by country music artist and Iowa-native Jason Brown. Another highlight of the event was a keynote speech from British author and journalist Mark Lynas who has recently come out in support genetically-modified organisms or GMOs after previously opposing the controversial practice.

The convention – which took place Tuesday and Wednesday – came on the heels of a request from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey for $7.5 million to go toward the Iowa Water Quality Initiative. Northey said the funding will be used over the next two years for a soil conservation cost share program.

To combat the issue of water pollution caused by nutrient runoff from crop fields, researchers at Iowa State University have recently been experimenting with using strips of prairie land to mitigate soil runoff. The researchers found that converting just 10 percent of cropland into prairie can reduce 95 percent of soil and sediment from running off. It also allows fields to retain 90 percent of phosphorus and 85 percent of nitrogen.

The Iowa Farm Bureau has been around since 1918 and is currently active in all 99 counties in Iowa.

On the Radio: Nutrient Reduction Strategy

Photo by the United Soybean Board; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers nutrient reduction demonstration projects that are set to help famers better manage harmful farm runoff. Listen to the audio below or continue reading for the transcript.

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