How farmers meet INRS
MAURICE – Farmers in the West Branch Floyd Watershed in Sioux County were part of a field day and demonstration on July 18 in conjunction with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at the Lee Maassen dairy farm near Maurice.
The Sioux County Soil and Water Conservation District was approved for a grant in the West Branch Floyd watershed area for three years as part of the INRS.
The INRS is to assist farmers to voluntarily apply conservation practices that reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into Iowa surface waters.
The strategy aims to reduce nitrogen by 45 percent – from both point (wastewater treatment plants) and non-point (agricultural fields) sources – and reduce phosphorus by 29 percent, primarily from soil erosion.
Maassen said his dairy operation has benefited from cover crops (mainly cereal rye) for the past 10 years. It’s planted on a percentages of the dairy’s acres and on waterways.
“I’ve been wondering how to do more of that because it’s an excellent fit for us in the dairy industry,” he said. “We take all of our crop off as forages so we don’t have as much residual left as grain farmers do. We want to build organic matter and increase residual.”
Maassen said he’s built terraces for conservation purposes, and said the INRS is, for his operation, a matter of good stewardship and protecting his bottom line.
“The last two growing seasons,” he said, “we’ve had high rainfalls and all of our cover crops acres had minimal erosion compared to the acres that didn’t have the cover crops on them.
“It’s important to me because the soil on the farm we stand on is my best 401K that we want to preserve, and I want to be a good steward of that.
“I don’t want to waste it.”
The day included eight breakout sessions and live equipment demonstrations, including standard and reduced disturbance anhydrous application equipment, standard and reduced disturbance manure application equipment, strip-till, no-till planting.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey rounded out the day with a message about the importance of the INRS and its value to Iowa farm land and to Iowa’s farmers.
Breakout sessions educated producers on various tools and products on the market for more effective nutrient applications, overcoming weed control issues in reduced and no-till situations; soil erosion costs; waterway values; new technology for nitrogen management; cover crop use and establishment; the use of drones; and a panel of farmers currently implementing practices to meet the INRS goals.
Northey touted the INRS initiative, saying there are 13 watershed projects each look different depending on the needs.
He said there are always small amounts of nitrogen that leave farm fields. But small amounts multiplied by 23 million acres of farmland in Iowa adds up to “a big impact.”
Northey said the farm community would do best to figure out on its own what needs to be done to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, rather than have the government step in with regulations made by people who don’t farm.
He said the government did step in last year to provide $2.4 million in new water quality initiative funding, and added $10 million in one-time funding. This year ongoing funding was raised to $4.4 million. Most of the funding is used to share expenses of cover crops for farmers who have never used them before.
“Last year,” Northey said, “100,000 acres were applied for and 1,100 farmers were involved. (The) maximum acreage was 168 acres, and we had a ton of interest.”
Northey said most of the funding was awarded in two weeks.
Northey said farmers are putting up their own money to be part of this initiative, since the partnership asks that farmers pay 50 percent of their own costs.
Farmers then have to figure out how it will work into their operations.
“That’s important for the public and for policy makers to hear,” Northey said.
Other watershed-enhancing practices, Northey said, include cover crops for seed corn acres and timing of nitrogen applications.
“Most of the projects are looking at aspects of cover crops and then some other piece besides that,” said Northey, adding that the state legislature seems to be behind this initiative, since it allocated new funding for it.
“They (lawmakers) believe we need to address this and do it in a way that works for producers,” Northey said. “We’ll have good support from the legislature, so there will be good opportunity to get more funding.”
Northey said producers who have been using cover crops over time stated they have been picking up 1 percent in organic matter every 10 years.
“Just think of what that can do to our soils and being able to handle the kinds of rains we sometimes get,” he said, “and to be able to handle an extra week of dry weather.
“Certainly we’re going to have to produce 300-bushel corn, and we will need the kind of soil that can handle that. Some of these tools will certainly help us do that.”
Northey urged producers to start small if necessary, but to get involved.
“This is not something that needs to change our operations overnight-we need to figure out pieces,” Northey said. “Some of it will work better than others, and 10 years from now we’ll be in a totally different place in understanding what really works.
“But we’ll be in the best place if you’re participating on some level now.”
He said that over time growers could see up to a 30 percent reduction in the need for both nitrogen and phosphorus, just by using cover crops.
He said Iowa is on the “front edge” of this initiative. Other states are implementing their own kind of research, but that almost no other state legislatures have come forward with as much funding.
“I also believe that may get us on the front edge of bringing technologies in,” Northey said, “helping us how to grow cover crops, even in northern Iowa, or how to look at different late-season nitrogen delivery systems.
“We have an advantage to having a big market here for somebody to figure those things out, and we have an interest in bringing those technologies in here.”
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