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EPS = farm profits + clean environment

By Staff | Jun 10, 2011

Chris Jones, an environmental scientist for ISA, demonstrates how samples of water are prepared to be analyzed in the Iowa Soybean Association's new water lab.


Farm News staff writer

ANKENY – Many producers and others in the agricultural industry may be surprised to learn that the Iowa Soybean Association is more than just an organization that helps develop programs and policies within the soybean industry, but is also a powerful force for implementing and supporting various environmental programs.

The ISA presented its environment programs and services’ work during a media day held May 19 at the ISA’s new facility in Ankeny.

Roger Wolf, director of ISA’s environmental programs and services, discussed the impacts the ever-changing agriculture industry has had on the environment and Iowa water.

Demonstrating how samples of water are run through the Iowa Soybean Association's new water lab is Chris Jones, who manages the ISA lab.

According to Wolf, Iowa leads the nation in soybeans, corn, hogs and egg production with $20 billion in cash receipts last year.

Due to Iowa’s state’s capability to be leaders in ag production, Wolf said, the scale of how these commodities are raised has significantly changed, creating a huge effect on the environment and a need for ways to develop and implement environmental programs.

“Farming has changed,” Wolf said. “Obviously farms are bigger and that has had an impact on our waters.”

The ISA, which is governed by an elected volunteer board of 21 farmers, has an Environmental Programs and Services Team that, with help from the soybean checkoff and other funding over the last 10 years, advance Iowa’s agriculture’s environmental performance.

According to the ISA, the EPS has:

  • Worked on more than 200 Iowa farms.
  • Is currently active in 26 Iowa watersheds covering 5.7 million acres.
  • Collaborates with more than 30 public and private partners to implement its various programs, including Certified Environmental Management Systems for Agriculture, Strategies Targeting American Agricultural Resources and Sustainability, as well as technical, analytical and leadership services.


Martha Zwonitzer, technical assistance manager for ISA’s EPS team, said CEMSA, has been under development since 2002 and helps farmers create a plan to address natural resource concerns.

According to the ISA the goals of CEMSA are to “assist farmers, aided by a trained consultant, in establishing an environmental management framework that will help them profitably address resource issues and concerns on their operation, integrating economic, agronomic and environmental performance and document and demonstrate measurable environmental quality improvements with an adaptive management system.”

“CEMSA is a plan that combines farm management and a certified environmental management system,” said Zwonitzer.

CEMSA incorporates, Zwonitzer said, an international standard by using the nine-step resource management system, developed by the National Resource and Conservation Service, which includes identifying problems and opportunities, determining objectives, inventory resources, analyzing resources, formulate and evaluate alternatives, making decisions, implementing the plan and evaluating the plan.

Some of the evaluation and testing involved with the CEMSA program, Zwonitzer said, is with late-season stalk sampling, crop scouting, in-field trials and soil quality testing.


STAARS, according to the ISA, “is a national, farmer-led initiative to improve farm profitability, energy efficiency, and environmental performance, while collecting, analyzing and reporting data documenting current on-farm resource management and sustainability.”

“STAARS is used to improve the profitability of U.S. soybean producers by several ways,” said Zwonitzer.

The STAARS project enrolls 500 participants in six states – North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Partners involved, she said, include governmental agencies, land grant institutions and state soybean commodity groups and to document, analyze energy use, other input use and management for three years and then address the on-farm resource management and sustainability.

Todd Sutphin, ISA’s state watershed coordinator, has been a part of the program since 2002.

“It’s been interesting to watch,” said Sutphin, “in nine years how the watershed arena has evolved.”

Sutphin said watershed planning is a multi-faceted program that is starting to include CEMSA planning with farmers, management evaluation, environmental evaluation through water monitoring, targeted conservation systems with bioreactors and shallow wetlands and technical service contracts such as the Agricultural Clean Water Alliance, which is made up of fertilizer dealers in the Raccoon and Des Moines River Watersheds, Des Moines Water Works, Iowa State University and others.

“Our mission is to reduce nutrient loss, specifically nitrates from farm fields along those areas,” said Sutphin.

A part of the new ISA building is a new water lab. Chris Jones, an environmental scientist, manages the lab where samples that have been collected come for analysis of nitrate, nitrogen, ammonia and other substances within targeted watersheds.

Jones said the water lab is beneficial because the regular sampling of water will help develop trends over time and that he is able to identify a problem rather quickly.

“We used to send samples through a partnership with the Des Moines Water Works,” said Wolf. “With the lab it is a way to expand what we can provide to other places such as watersheds.”

Jones said there are plans being developed to also be able to assist farmers and rural acreage owners with well water testing as well.

“Contamination of farmstead wells is a continual problem,” said Jones.

“I’m interested in working with farmers and the water on their farmsteads by making recommendations on fixing their problem.”

For more information regarding ISA’s environmental programs and services visit:



Contact Kriss Nelson at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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