Farming conservation techniques catching on in Iowa

A mixture of crimson clover, oats, common vetch, radish and New York style turnip is used as cover crops on this farm in Eastern South Dakota. (USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr)
A cover crop mixture of crimson clover, oats, common vetch, radish, and New York style turnip is used on this farm in Eastern South Dakota. (USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 5, 2014

A recent study by the international consulting firm Datu Research finds that Iowa farmers are beginning to better utilize cover crops, crop rotation, and no-till practices.

The 53-page report  concluded that 23 percent of Iowa farmers who responded to the survey said they utilized cover crops. Seventy percent were using minimum or conservation tillage while 47 percent said they practiced no-till techniques. The study also found that 80 percent of respondents rotated between corn and soybeans each year.

Practices such as cover crop use, crop rotation, and reduced tillage can help to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff which leads to water pollution. These practices also improve soil health and help to manage moisture content while saving farmers money on fertilizer costs. Currently agriculture accounts for over 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus that enters the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. This has threatened the aquatic ecosystem in one of the nation’s largest and most productive fisheries.

A separate ongoing study by researchers at the University of Illinois suggests that cover crops do not increase crop yields but do “increase the amount of sequestered soil organic carbon.” This study finds that tillage techniques also affect the soil organic carbon content.

The Datu study was conducted on Iowa farmers and landowners in June of 2014. Approximately 1,500 farmers were surveyed and of those 212 were considered eligible respondents.

On the Radio: Funds for Water Quality Practices

Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers a statewide, monetary incentive program that will help cut down on the pollution caused by field runoff. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

Western Iowa celebrates no-till farming

Environmental organizations around Iowa continue to stress the merits of no-till farming to Iowans. The Daily Nonpareil reports that June 14 will mark the fourth annual Western Iowa No-Till Field Day.

Held near Shelby, Iowa, the field day is hosted by Iowa State University Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Soil and Water Conservation districts in Pottawattamie, Shelby and Harrison counties.

The focal points of the field day are educating Iowans on both the conservation and production yield benefits of no-till:

Shelby County Iowa State Extension program coordinator Kate Olson explained that no-till improves soil structure, solidifying and strengthening the earth. The stronger soil also holds more nutrients and limits water runoff, which helps prevent fertilizer from reaching bodies of water.

“No-till keeps the soil on the field instead of in neighboring lakes and streams,” she said. “The practice really does protect soil and water and prevents pollution.”

Conservationist Kevin Kuhn further explains the impact of no-till farming over time.

The less runoff, the less soil erosion, said Kevin Kuhn, an area resource conservationist at the NRCS office in Atlantic who will work at the field day. Farmland worked with long-term no-till practices, over about seven to eight years, will retain three-times more soil than similar land with tillage, he said.

“We really feel that long-term no-till farming is our best conservation practice in Iowa,” Kuhn said. “Through a field day, we want to do everything we can to promote long-term no-till so producers understand the impact it has on conservation. And we want to help farmers be successful at it.”

Earlier this year, the Iowa Environmental Focus featured a radio spot and blog post on the potential of no-till farming to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Further explanations of no-till farming’s advantages are explained in the video below via SUNUP.