Iowa farmers implement sustainable practices

Photo by Alejandro Barru00f3n on

Tyler Chalfant | October 17th, 2019

Iowa farmers are implementing practices to increase sustainability and reduce environmental threats to public health, including crop rotation, use of cover crops, eliminating pesticides, and using alternatives to chemical weeding. One group called Practical Farmers of Iowa organized a series of educational field days over the summer, providing opportunities across the state for farmers to share and discuss these practices. One of the environmental threats in the state comes from nutrient runoff from agricultural fertilizers, which recently have contributed to the growth of toxic microcystins in some Iowa bodies of water, making sustainable farming not just an environmental issue, but a public health concern as well. 

Research published last month from Iowa State University scientists found that the widely-used practice of crop rotation helps to reduce pollution, but also depletes organic matter in soil over time. Rotating between corn and soybeans requires less nitrogen fertilizer than continuous corn production, as soybeans leave behind a nitrogen-rich residue in the soil. This allows farmers to save on costs and reduce nitrogen runoff into freshwater lakes and streams. However the abundance of nitrogen contributes to the growth of microbes which, on years when corn is planted, consume nutrients needed for corn production, depleting this organic material in the long run.

UI researchers study mussels to improve water quality

Craig L. Just is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa. (University of Iowa)
Craig L. Just is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa. (Tim Schoon/University of Iowa)

Nick Fetty | July 8, 2016

University of Iowa researchers are studying the role freshwater mussels play in the nitrogen cycle as a way to improve water quality in the Hawkeye State.

Craig L. Just – an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering – and Ellen Black – PhD candidate in Environmental Engineering and Science – are studying the potential of using freshwater mussels as a way to remove nitrogen from Iowa waterways. Nitrogen contributes to the growth of algae which serves as a food source for the mussels. Specially, Black is looking at the effect that microbial communities have on native freshwater mussels.

“Mussels filter water and excrete nitrogen into underlying sediment, thus sequestering biologically active nutrients for microorganisms to consume and possibly remove from river systems,” Black told The Daily Iowan.

Through the use of generation sequencing, Black is able to pinpoint all bacteria found in mussel beds which can help researchers to better determine the effect that mussels have on microbial processes.

In addition to his work with mussels, Just has also worked with civil and environmental engineering PhD candidate Hunter Schroer. Just and Schroer are studying ways to make military explosives less prone to self-detonation. The researchers also seek to discover and potentially mitigate the impact that explosives have on the environment by finding organisms that detoxify explosives by converting them into carbon dioxide. They’re also studying ways they can use plants as a cost-effective way to detect explosives in soil.

For more information about Black and Schroer’s research, check out The Daily Iowan.