Iowa Learning Farms, housed at Iowa State University, celebrates 15 years of service in 2019. Established in 2004, ILF is building a “culture of conservation” by encouraging adoption of conservation practices.
Farmers, researchers and ILF team members work together to identify and implement best management practices to improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable.
Throughout 2019, ILF will be sharing stories about the contributors, history and successes of ILF and its partner program Water Rocks!
As a conservation outreach specialist for Iowa Learning Farms, Liz Juchems coordinates many of the outreach activities for ILF and the Water Rocks program. This includes scheduling and organizing field days, outdoor classrooms, school visits and public events.
She’s been part of the ILF professional staff since 2013, but her involvement with the program dates back to 2008 when she first worked as an intern. With three summer and school-year internships under her belt, Juchems left ISU to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before returning to Ames and ILF.
What is your role with the organization? My timeline with ILF has been complex, but from the beginning I was immersed in outreach and education. As an intern, I also assisted with research and did lots of odd jobs. As the conservation outreach specialist, my days are filled with planning and delivering field days and workshops for farmers and landowners, coordinating Conservation Station visits, and lots of scheduling and logistics planning.
I’m also deeply involved in ILF’s long-term cover crop research, data collection, and working with farmers and ISU farm managers to establish research plots. Other research-related activities include performing economic analysis of cover crops and assessing soil erosion reduction benefits of using cover crops across Iowa. I recently helped author materials for the Emerging Farmer program, which includes business planning tools, as well as the Talking With Your Landlord publication series.
ILF has grown during its 15 years, and my roles and responsibilities have likewise grown and evolved through my years here.
What has been the purpose of ILF during your involvement? My father, Rick Juchems, was one of the early farmer-partners with ILF, so I saw the program in its infancy and from the farmer’s perspective. I’ve seen the programming evolve to what it is today. ILF has stayed true to its original mission to engage famers and communities in creating a culture of conservation throughout Iowa.
An important part of the program has been face-to-face involvement with farmers through field days and workshops. Not only has this helped build the impact and reputation of ILF, it has also affected how farmers speak with and influence other farmers.
ILF is successful because we engage with multiple communities and constituencies with facts, science and solutions. Partnering with farmers, service agencies, nonprofits, schools, and anyone involved in the ag or conservation ecosystems helps ILF continuously promote practices and actions that can deliver positive outcomes for all.
How did you change the program, and how did it change you? I’ve got a “get it done” personality. And throughout my tenure with ILF, I’ve taken on tasks that perhaps hadn’t been done before, worked with the team to make a plan and sometimes got things right on the first try. I also think I brought some fresh ideas to how we approach field days and outreach events that have improved quality and impact.
Involvement with ILF helped me choose my education and career paths. I’ve learned a lot about problem-solving, gained confidence in speaking one on one and in front of groups, and deepened my understanding of soil and water conservation practices to help better inform Iowans — farmers, landowners, students and urban citizens alike.
What are your fondest memories of working with ILF? I’ve done some great community events and met amazing people throughout Iowa. I also enjoy opportunities to be outside and get back to my farm roots — getting dirty, putting in the labor, and then returning a month later to see the reward in the case of hand seeding our cover crop research plots. I’ve seen a lot of Iowa through road trips to our events and research plots. Along the way, interacting with coworkers, interns and the public rejuvenates my passion to continue what we are doing for Iowa.
Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa? I grew up on a farm, and my parents continue to farm and employ conservation practices in Butler County. You could say caring about water quality and conservation is in my DNA. My brother and I are future landowners and have a personal stake in preserving the land that our family has worked to care for and create a legacy. I also enjoy outdoor recreation, be it floating down a river or walking through state and city parks, so having clean and healthy public places to enjoy is very important to me.
Iowa’s economy relies heavily on agricultural production. There are also robust water and wildlife recreation opportunities that contribute to making Iowa a great place to live. Conservation plays a huge role for every Iowan whether they are landowners and ag producers or not. It would be a mistake for Iowa not to commit to maintaining and improving ag productivity. This goal starts with concerted efforts to stem the loss of fertile topsoil. Focusing on water quality isn’t just about filtering bad things out of our water; it must also address preventing soil and contaminants from entering the lakes and rivers. Water quality does matter to Iowans, as evidenced by the funding for water quality efforts passed by the state legislature last year.
If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities? I’d like to see a quarter of Iowa’s total crop acres seeded with cover crops compared to today’s 880,000 acres of cover crops. Iowa has 24 million total crop acres. While 6 million acres seeded to cover crops would still be well below the goals proposed in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, it would make a real impact on improving and protecting water quality in Iowa.
I also hope our ILF efforts will have made a mental shift in thinking about soil and water conservation, making it a normal way of doing business. And that crop diversity and conservation will have become norms, not afterthoughts that are only considered when time and money are ample.
What else should people know about ILF? ILF is a trusted resource that’s been around for 15 years. We have tons of expertise in water quality, conservation and agricultural practices. We’re also connected to partners with even more experience and expertise. So, if someone has a question about conservation, water quality or almost any other environmental topic, we can explore and reach out to our experts to find an answer.