Tri-County Rural Water Quality Project

January - March 2003

George Cummins , crops field specialist

Sustainable agricultural practices, nutrient management and groundwater quality are high-priority extension programming issues in northeast Iowa . Karst geology, disappearing streams and sinkholes and agriculture drainage wells all contribute to a unique situation that requires special attention and management. Iowa State University Extension has helped develop and implement several successful water quality projects that have been completed in this part of the state in recent years. The Tri-County Rural Water Quality Project, which encompasses 661,000 sensitive acres in Butler , Floyd and Mitchell Counties , was conducted from 19982002. A major objective of this project was to increase awareness of water quality issues and to demonstrate workable solutions to the problems identified. The three county extension education directors (Pat Derdzinski, Brenda Schmitt and Neil Wubben) and the area crops specialist (George Cummins) worked with the project coordinator and the project advisory committee to implement activities which would meet the project objectives and extension programming priorities.

A pre-project survey was developed and conducted by the sociology department at Iowa State . The survey was designed to assess landowner knowledge of groundwater issues and the impact of various farming practices on water quality.

Replicated, on-farm nutrient management demonstrations were conducted by extension in each of the three counties each year. In 2000, three cooperators conducted three trials involving manure X nitrogen (N) rates; in 2001, five cooperators conducted seven trials involving manure X N rate, commercial N rates and N rates following alfalfa; and in 2002, five cooperators conducted seven trials involving manure X N rates, commercial N rates and N rates following alfalfa. Manure analysis, applicator calibration, the Iowa State late spring nitrate test (LSNT) and the Iowa State fall stalk nitrate test (FSNT) were used to monitor nutrient usage and losses. All of the testing costs and some of the ISU crop specialist travel expenses were covered by the project. Harvest yields were collected on all trials, the data was statistically analyzed, and economic response was determined.

In December of 2001 and 2002, cooperator meetings were held at the Iowa State Northeast Research Farm to share individual trial results, to evaluate the project and to identify additional work needed. Cooperators, the project advisory committee, local supervisors and legislators, campus extension and IDALS and DNR staff participated in the discussions. Summaries of the individual trials and discussion from these cooperator sessions were published in a project newsletter which was sent quarterly to 3,300 landowners in the three counties, were used in area media articles and were used as local examples in crop clinics and confinement site manure applicator certification training.

On-farm cooperator trials were included as stops on annual conservation tours in each county.

Funding for the post-project survey by the Iowa State sociology department was cut so we do not have a formal evaluation of the impact of the project on improved awareness by landowners.

This project reflects successful networking with and cooperation between NRCS, IDALS, DNR and extension at the local and state level.
Several of the cooperators are active members of commodity groups, farm organizations or are special advisory committee members addressing animal production/nutrient management/environmental issues at the state and national level. They have first-hand experience with many of the practices being considered by public policy makers and can identify potential benefits and limitations. They can document and quantify the economic and environmental benefits of the practices under their farming conditions. They have adopted a number of the practices demonstrated and have shared their experiences with neighbors, friends and professional contacts providing a multiplier effect for these extension efforts.

Imitation is the highest compliment. The on-farm demonstrations piloted with the Tri-County Water Quality Project are an integral part of the subsequent Iowa State Hub and Spokes Manure/ Tillage Project. In 2001, this project worked with nine farmers in six counties with 12 different trials and had a budget of $38,150. In 2002, the project had 10 cooperators in six counties with 14 different trials. The project added a research component at the Northeast Research Farm and had a budget of $116,000. The Hub and Spokes budget allowed opportunities for some extension salary savings and cost recovery for travel and program expenses related to the project. This project will be expanded in 2003 as funding permits.

The Tri-County Water Quality Project was terminated in December, 2002. There is a continuing need for research and demonstration projects to develop sustainable agriculture systems, which are economically and environmentally sound and socially acceptable. Extension involvement in these projects is essential to their subsequent success.


Page last updated: July 10, 2006
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