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Close up view of cereal rye seeding in soybean field
GET IT COVERED: Iowa needs many more acres of cover crops, like this cereal rye seeding, to reach water quality goals.

Protecting water quality

ISU exhibit at Farm Progress Show will compare practices for keeping nutrients on the land.

The Farm Progress Show will be held in Boone, Iowa, on Aug. 28-30. See for more information.

By Willy Klein

Farmers and landowners in Iowa, and those in the 11 other states of the Mississippi River watershed, are being asked to change some crop production practices to reduce nutrient loss to the waterways.

It’s not just crop producers; municipal and industrial point sources also are being called on to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus discharges in response to the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan.

Iowa developed a plan of action in 2013, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which would reduce the amount of nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico. The voluntary plan is based on science and technology, with a goal to reduce total nitrogen and phosphorus loads by 45%.

Iowa State University was a partner in developing the plan, and the university continues to conduct research around the actions and provide outreach where practices recommended by the plan are demonstrated and discussed. Plan development partners were the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“It requires high adaption of a full suite of practices to reach the nutrient reduction goal of the strategy,” says Jamie Benning, manager of ISU Extension and Outreach water quality program. “There are many practices (edge-of-field, in-field and land use) that fit within the row crop system to reduce nutrient loss.”

Some of the practices have a long history in Iowa agriculture, and others are relatively new concepts.

Water quality protection practices
Benning and a team of scientists will have several practices on display in ISU Tent at the 2018 Farm Progress Show. They will bring information about lower risk, higher efficiency in-field practices and also have demonstrations of edge-of-field practices to engage visitors in conversations about options to consider.

“We are creating a greater awareness of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the trend is that a larger number of farmers have more knowledge of it,” Benning says. “By getting practices on the landscape and creating opportunities for farmers to learn about how these various practices work, we see more adoption of practices.”

Since the plan was put in place, 70 agencies and organizations have become project partners.

“We are seeing increased acres of cover crops in areas of the state where there have been field days and farmer-to-farmer learning,” Benning says. Outreach events effectively doubled last year, with 474 events attended by 54,500 people. “But scale-up of practice adoption is still needed.”

Benning hopes conversations during FPS encourage farmers to learn more about cover crops and work with an agronomist to create a plan for implementing cover crops.

Learn more at Farm Progress Show
Visitors to the ISU Tent at FPS will also learn about the benefits of no-till, and that there are no significant differences in yield across tillage systems for soybeans. “Reducing tillage reduces soil loss, which is an important step in reducing phosphorus loss, and produces competitive yields and economic returns,” Benning says.

The science shows that no-till and cover crops are two efficient practices with multiple benefits that farmers should consider implementing.

Klein is a communications specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

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