Conservation Groups Stoke Interest in Farm Nutrient Management
As the Iowa Water Quality Initiative enters its fourth year, federal and state cost-share land conservation and nutrient reduction programs are expanding their scope, and more Iowa farms are managing for nutrient loss and erosion.
Humboldt County farmer Robert Lynch hosted a field day June 8 to share what he has learned about using cover crops, strip-tillage and no-tilling soybeans into cornstalks on his family’s farm east of Gilmore City.
In the crowd of around 60 people who attended, Lynch was thrilled to see more than a handful of his neighbors who farm “actually listening and hearing” about the benefits of conservation practices.
“I think a farmer has to hear and see it eight to 10 times before they actually believe it,” Lynch said.
Adoption of new conservation management practices has been a gradual process for Lynch, who is currently serving as president of the Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI) as well as on the local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) commission.
About 30 years ago, Lynch put in the first grassed waterways on his farm. In the ‘90s, he started to ridge-till — planting corn into 9- to 10-inch elevated rows made during cultivation and leaving 20-inch undisturbed strips.
When his son Jay joined the operation about five years ago, they began to strip-till, injecting dry fertilizer into the row as Lynch did previously with ridge-till.
In September, a rye cover crop will be flown on. Soil samples are taken on all of his ground every four years.
“I’m not going to switch back to 100 percent tillage ever. I don’t believe in that,” Lynch said. “Once you see this no-till or strip-till — it actually helps the soil.”
Lynch said after a recent 2-inch rain, there was no standing water in his fields.
“I like to say that when I have my rain, I want it to stay where it lands,” Lynch said.
He said cover crops have also reduced weed pressure.
“If that rye is growing out there, there’s really nothing out there but rye,” Lynch said.
The nutrient reduction strategy and incentive programs spurred his interest in new techniques, but his real motivation is his desire to keep the soil and water where it is for future generations.
A Chance to Serve
CDI Executive Director Clare Lindahl hopes more farmers, and non-farmers, will volunteer to serve on their local SWCD boards.
Formed after the Dust Bowl, there are districts in each Iowa county and thousands more across the nation.
“We are part of something very big,” Lindahl said.
Yet what is most unique about the districts is that they are local, she said.
“They know the concerns and needs and values of their counties and are most equipped to do this work,” Lindahl said.
CDI is a nonprofit that assists the SWCDs by providing education, technical assistance and funding via partnerships that “gets conservation on the ground,” she said.
One of the group’s latest projects is the retaiN program, which provides kits for farmers to test nitrogen levels in their tile lines. For more information, visit www.retainiowa.com.
In July 2015, $3.5 million was obligated to applicants in all 100 SWCDs in Iowa for cost share on conservation practices through the Water Quality Initiative (WQI) alone.
Iowa Department of Agriculture WQI Coordinator Matt Lechtenberg said the state is working closely with CDI, SWCD boards and other partners to advance the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
State funds are now available for farmers interested in trying cover crops, no-till, strip-till, or use of nitrification inhibitors on fall anhydrous. Many of these incentives are targeted at first-time users, Lechtenberg said.
More federal funds from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will also soon be headed to the Upper Cedar, Middle Cedar, North Raccoon, South Skunk and Upper Red Rock watersheds, he said.
Interest in the CRP from Iowa farmers continues to be strong, he said.
Iowa Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Coordinator Paul Goldsmith said targeted conservation practices will also continue in Iowa through the NRCS’ Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI) and the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI).
This year, the NRCS is beginning programs in Pottawattamie, Fremont and Mills counties, as well as continuing the North Raccoon Watershed project in Buena Vista County through MRBI.
Ongoing projects through NWQI include the Wall Lake Inlet project in Sac and Carroll counties, the Badger Creek project in Dallas and Madison counties and three projects targeted for watersheds upstream of Lake Rathbun.