Farm Progress

Survey shows Iowa farmers are increasing the use of practices to protect water quality.

May 11, 2017

3 Min Read
MAKING PROGRESS: A survey shows farmers statewide are using more practices to reduce the loss of nutrients from fields. But more work remains to be done to reach the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The 2016 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll examined trends in farming practices and strategies since 2013, the year the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was started. The farm poll survey listed a number of nutrient loss reduction practices, as well as some practices that are not recommended. It also asked farmers if they had changed their use of the practices since 2013.

“For the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy to meet its goals, most of Iowa’s farmers will have to continuously improve their nutrient management practices,” says J. Gordon Arbuckle, Iowa State University sociology professor and director of the poll. “These survey questions give us an idea of which practices are being adopted more or less quickly.”

Using recommended practices
Results indicate farmers are increasing their use of recommended practices and decreasing use of some practices that are not recommended. For example, about 26% of farmers reported they had increased their use of conservation tillage methods and 19% increased their use of continuous no-till. About 21% reported a reduction in fall tillage and 19% had reduced spring tillage. Only 5% and 7% of respondents reported an increase in their fall and spring tillage, respectively.
“Reductions in tillage decrease soil loss, which means less phosphorus in waterways,” says Arbuckle. “Of course, there’s also the added benefit of keeping the soil where you want it: in the field growing crops.”

The poll also found farmers had increased their use of several nutrient management practices since 2013. The greatest change was reported in the use of precision-agriculture practices, such as variable-rate fertilizer application, with 34% of farmers reporting either moderate or major increases in the practice. Soil testing and similar methods of determining fertilizer rates saw 31% of respondents reporting an increase in the practice, while 27% reported increasing their use of nitrogen stabilizers.

Also, 22% and 20% of farmers reported an increase in spring or growing season applications of nitrogen, respectively. A decrease in fall application of nitrogen fertilizer was reported by 17%. Research shows applying nitrogen during the growing season instead of the fall can reduce nutrient loss and potentially increase profits.

More adoption still needed
A significant number of farmers reported increases in the use of other important conservation practices. Of the farmers surveyed, 35% reported having increased use of structural practices, such as terraces, buffer strips or grassed waterways. Also, 20% reported an increase in cover crop use, and 14% indicated they had shifted at least some marginal cropland into other uses such as pasture or hay. About 36% reported increasing their use of tile or other drainage practices, which can lead to nutrient loss.

“These results show positive trends in the use of practices that can reduce nutrient loss into waterways,” notes Arbuckle. “Although the results indicate many farmers are headed in the right direction, many more will need to adopt or increase their use of a diversity of nutrient loss reduction practices to meet strategy goals.”

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll has been in existence since 1982, surveying Iowa farmers on issues of importance to agricultural stakeholders. It is the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation.

Source: Iowa State University


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