The Iowa Learning Farms webinar at noon Feb. 20 will cover the consequences of farming prairie potholes and management options for these common Iowa landscape features.
In Iowa, many prairie potholes are actively farmed. Because of their position in the landscape and their topographic and soil characteristics, prairie potholes flood frequently after rain events, even with artificial drainage.
Amy Kaleita, agricultural and biosystems engineering professor at Iowa State University, will explain this flooding behavior, and the effects it has on crops and watersheds. She also will discuss options for managing these features to decrease the frequency of negative impacts.
Research on pothole profitability
“Some research has shown that farmed prairie potholes lose money more often than they make a profit. Because they also have significant environmental impacts, conservation-minded management of these features may provide benefits at a lower cost than changes in more productive parts of the field,” Kaleita says.
Her research on precision conservation focuses on how to use publicly available or low-cost data to improve conservation decision-making within production agriculture. She hopes the webinar viewers will gain a better understanding of the unique behaviors of prairie potholes and how they can best be managed in an agricultural setting.
Access to webinar
To watch the webinar, go to iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars shortly before noon to download the Zoom software and select the login option. The webinar will be recorded and archived on the ILF website for watching at any time.
Prairie potholes are usually small in size, but when farmed, these perennially wet spots on the landscape can have implications for the environment and farm profitability.
In Iowa, many of these areas are found in the Des Moines lobe, which spans the north-central part of the state, ending around the Polk-Story county line. And the vast majority of them are farmed. These areas of crop fields habitually yield poorly and drag field yield averages down. And they are prone to nutrient loss and leaching, raising questions about the benefits of continuing to grow corn and soybeans in them.
Questions on pothole management
Kalieta, speaking on the webinar, will address the main questions she and other researchers are trying to answer:
- What’s the hydrology of prairie potholes?
- How long do they stay flooded?
- How or when do neighboring potholes connect to each other and to downstream locations?
- What’s the impact of prairie potholes on the crop?
- What’s the impact of prairie potholes on profitability?
- How would alternative management practices affect the environmental and economic impacts of prairie potholes?
“Potholes aren’t very big, usually from less than an acre to several acres in size,” Kaleita says. “But they can have a significant effect on a field’s profitability and on the environment. Farmers have been asking these questions for a long time, and our research is turning up good answers, and we’re developing sound management recommendations.”