The Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here tour visited Kelly Nieuwenhuis' farm in O'Brien County recently to showcase soil health and water quality practices at work. The stop, hosted by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), featured agricultural conservation work happening in the state, including Iowa's Water & Land Legacy and sustainable grazing projects. It also helped raise awareness about the 4R Plus Program, (https://iawatercenter.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/what-is-the-iowa-4r-plus-program/) an industry-supported effort that aims to connect farmers with practices that help preserve Iowa's land and water resources.
The Nature Conservancy, and a coalition of ag and conservation organizations that support the 4R Plus Program, promote using precision nutrient applications in conjunction with in-field and edge-of-field conservation practices to improve productivity on Iowa's farms while protecting natural resources. The program recently launched the "On the Plus Side" social media campaign to showcase Iowa farmers who have seen firsthand the benefits of investing in soil health and water quality practices. These, and other agricultural conservation leaders, are encouraging other Iowa farmers to get involved.
"All farmers and landowners should be investing in conservation practices to improve their soil health and our water quality. The 4R Plus program provides good guidelines that can help farmers balance their productivity, profitability and environmental stewardship," says Mike Naig, Iowa secretary of agriculture. "I'm excited to see some of Iowa's farm environmental leaders being highlighted through the On the Plus Side campaign. These families are great examples of how implementing science-based conservation practices on the land yields direct results to water quality and soil health in our state and downstream."
Protecting land from extreme weather
Farmers across Iowa have experienced the “plus side” of weatherproofing farms, protecting their valuable soil, improving water quality and preserving productivity for future generations. According to the 2020 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, 58% agreed they should take additional steps to protect their land from extreme weather events. Nieuwenhuis has been a leader in implementing the recommended methods on his operation.
Nieuwenhuis switched to one-pass vertical tillage in 2016 after a long history using full tillage. His “plus side” is impressive: increased organic matter, reduced fertilizer applications, reduced pesticide use, improved water quality, drastically reduced fuel and equipment costs from fewer passes, good earthworm populations and good yields.
"Changing tillage systems has increased the soil's organic matter, which benefits the crops and keeps the soil from blowing away," Nieuwenhuis explains. "I can see a difference in the fields we've been operating longer. My goal is to constantly grow organic matter, eliminate nutrient loss and improve water quality."