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Opens doors to water debates

By Staff | Jul 11, 2015

DISCUSSING COVER CROPS are, from left, Tim Smith, a soybean grower from Eagle Grove, Jeff Thompson, of Calcium products; Mike Hogan, chief executive officer of Calcium Products; and Steve May, with ISA’s On-Farm Network.

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ANKENY – They came, they saw, they ate; no one was converted, but perhaps some were revived.

That’s because the Iowa Soybean Association was preaching to its choir on July 1, when it held a water quality open house at its headquarters in Ankeny.

Virtually every known soil-saving, nutrient-reducing management practice applicable in Iowa was on display with presenters available to explain things indepth.

Those attending were state lawmakers, wanting to know what they are getting for the money the state invests in water quality projects; heads of conservation organizations, who find areas of common ground with ISA environmental goals; and at least one teacher looking to take new information back to her eight-grade earth science class.

-Farm News photos by Larry Kershner VISITORS TO THE July 1 water quality open house at the Iowa Soybean Association’s Ankeny campus, look over displays of different land management practices farmers are adopting to keep nutrients in the soil and out of Iowa’s surface waters.

But absent, despite being invited, said Kirk Leeds, ISA’s chief executive officer, were individuals and organizations critical of the nutrient loads in surface water that flow from farm field tile systems.

“There’s a lot of conversation about water quality and progress being made by farmers to reduce nutrient and sediment movement,” he said. “We welcome the dialogue and look forward to welcoming those who care about the topic as much as farmers.”

Practices showcased included cover crops, aerial imagery, bioreactors, oxbow restoration and conservation tillage.

Farmers were on hand to discuss their experiences using the practices and answer questions.

Visitors also toured ISA’s accredited water quality testing lab.

“The ISA is about action and there’s momentum on the side of progress as more and more farmers across Iowa participate in ISA’s water monitoring programs and adopt more conservation practices,” Leeds said.

“Iowa farmers are committed to improving our natural resources because they want to succeed in the greatest challenge Iowa has ever faced.

“We must act boldly and decisively, guided by cooperation and empowered by investments in research and technology as well as the adoption of more conservation practices in more places.”

Saturated buffer

Keegan Kult, an ISA environmental specialist, spoke to visitors about saturated buffers, which are an attempt to “re-plumb” a riparian buffer, redirecting field tile drainage into the buffer as shallow groundwater flow. As the water flows through the buffer, both denitrification and uptake by the perennial plants in the buffer remove nitrate and keep it out of an adjacent stream.

Steve Berger, of Iowa city, said he was interested in the saturated buffers, which may be less expensive than a bioreactor.

“They (bioreactors) can cost up to $10,000 for a little area,” Berger said. “I think they can go, if the price can be kept down.”

No-till farming

Tom Oswald, a soybean producer, no-till farmer, and president of the ISA board of directors, was showing the unique soil structure from a field that had been no-tilled for several years to Hanna Bates, coordinator for the Squaw Creek Watershed Management Authority.

One distinctive feature of no-tilled soil, Oswald said, is more worms in the soil.

Worm casings help fertilize, and worm holes provide channels for water to drain and air for roots.

Bates said she’s hoping that efforts like ISA’s open house, will help decision makers understand that no one soil management type fits all fields.

“Each farm and each operation is different,” Bates said. “We have to find the right practices for the right field.”

Cover crops

Chris Mulder, a Pella-area farmer and member of the ISA directors board, was showing a video of the benefits of planting cover crops to Margaret Hogan, of Earlville, a soybean grower and a teacher. She said she is always on the look-out for new information to tell her eight-grade earth science students about conservation-minded farming.

She said she grows grain as a no-tiller and plants cover crops.

Meanwhile, Tim Smith, a long-time cover crop farmer from Eagle Grove, was talking to Jeff Thompson, and Mike Hogan, both of Calcium Products; and Steve May, with ISA’s On-Farm Network.

Hogan, chief executive officer for Calcium Products, said his company works closely with ISA programs, because part of its business model is “sweetening” farm fields, by adding some type of calcium if soil pH is too high.

Water testing

In ISA’s lower level, Anthony Seeman, an ISA watershed management specialist, led visitors through the water quality testing lab.

He said the facility tests upward to 400 samples per month, getting results back to producers within a few days.

He said the lab tests primarily for the presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in water.

Stalk testing

Dr. Peter Kyverga, director of ISA’s analytics, was showing Pam Mollenbauer, government relations officer for the State Hygenic Laboratory, about the need to test corn stalks for their nitrogen content at harvest.

“The plants will tell us if they had enough nitrogen” Kyverga said. He said pooling sampling results with combine monitoring yield numbers, “puts all the pieces together as a system.” Subsequent fertilizer management decisions are then made for the next crop year, he said.

Mullenbauer said she was present because she knows many of the tests done at ISA are performed at the State Hygenic Laboratory.

“It’s hard to get the information out on the many organizations that are doing things,” Mullenbauer said. “Coordinating efforts will led to better education and policy.”

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