Iowa Farmers Share Ideas On Water Quality Improvement

Iowa Farmers Share Ideas On Water Quality Improvement

Experts at Farm Progress Show encouraged use of water quality practices supported by research.

By Willy Klein

Nate Anderson, who farms near Cherokee in northwest Iowa, had the perfect spot at the 2014 Farm Progress Show. Between large seed company tents and blocks filled with farm equipment, Anderson joined Iowa State University experts and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to talk about cover crops and no-till planting --  two management tools he uses in his corn-soybean production program.

Anderson and Northey, two of the farmers featured in the nutrient management area of the Iowa State University tent, shared their management strategy experiences and listened as farmers talked about management practices for their own farms.

WHAT WORKS FOR YOU? Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey and farmer Nate Anderson were guest experts in Iowa State University's tent at Farm Progress Show. They shared their management strategy experiences and listened as farmers talked about practices on their own farms.

"It's good for farmers to share their experiences and questions, and find out more about management practices they are considering," said Anderson. "We need to keep talking and encouraging each other."

Farmers talking to farmers and learning from each other
Northey agrees, saying that farmers talking to farmers and learning from each other is going to be the way Iowa ramps up water quality efforts and the implementation of new management practices. "There's a lot of momentum right now around implementing new practices," Northey said. "Iowa farmers, universities and agribusiness have been working on water quality issues for a long time, certainly soil conservation issues, but the last few years we have focused on ramping that up."

It was only natural that Anderson and Northey would be guest experts in the Farm Progress Show tent organized by Iowa State University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, and Extension and Outreach. Anderson is a 2010 ISU graduate in agronomy and Northey's state office, the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship, partnered with ISU and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to create the state's Nutrient Reduction Strategy as a way to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus loads in water leaving farmland.

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Prime time for farmers to show they can make a positive impact
The best practices outlined in the strategy and the current initiative encouraging the implementation of those practices were the focus of one area of the ISU tent at the Farm Progress Show. Matt Helmers, ISU professor in ag and biosystems engineering and an ISU Extension water quality specialist, was the staff expert the day Northey and Anderson were at the show. Helmers said this is an opportune time for folks in agriculture to show that they can make a positive impact on water quality.

"Profitability is important to our farmers," said Helmers, "Short-term and long-term profitability and economic vitality of agriculture in the state are tied to our soil resources. If we are not protecting our soil resources, we jeopardize the long-term profitability of our agricultural system."

Helmers and other ISU researchers and Extension specialists talked to farm show visitors about research being conducted around the suite on management practices outlined in the state strategy. Helmers said research is looking at how well the practices are performing, related costs and long-term benefits.

Cost-share funding from Iowa legislature is providing incentive
Water quality initiative funding from the Iowa legislature is enticing farmers to try practices new to them. "We'll learn more by doing," said Northey. "We encourage every farmer to find something that works for them -- try cover crops in a small way, try no-till or strip till, look at getting cost share on installing a bioreactor. We are seeing a great success in farmer participation."

He said the number of acres with cover crops has doubled each of the last few years and there are increasing numbers of farmers trying no-till, strip till and nitrification inhibitors. "Young farmers like Nate Anderson will be part of figuring out what this next generation of conservation ethic is, and how we care for the land, how we improve water quality. It's fun to join Iowa State in these conversations."

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More information about the water quality initiative best management practices is available in the ISU Extension publication, "Reducing Nutrient Loss: Science Shows What Works", available from the Extension Online Store. Take a closer look at the practices and Iowans implementing them at www.cleanwateriowa.org. The clean water Iowa website includes best practices for residential and urban, and city and industry, as well as for farms.

NOTE: Willy Klein is a communications specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. She can be reached at 515-294-0662 or [email protected].

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