AMES, Iowa — It began in 2004 with a small group of concerned people from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University and Iowa Department of Natural Resources. They created a project that would address increasing adoption of conservation farming practices across the state. The five-year Iowa Learning Farms project has evolved into a program that is commemorating 10 years in 2014.
The components of ILF include agronomy, agricultural engineering, economics and sociology. It includes partnering with farmers in the different Iowa soil regions who are already practicing conservation such as no-till, strip-till and cover crops. ILF is guided by representatives from IDALS, IDNR, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Conservation Districts of Iowa, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
ILF began promoting conservation practices to farmers in 2005 through field days, a newsletter, website and radio. It has added outreach resources including print publications, how-to videos and the “Culture of Conservation” videos. In 2011, monthly webinars began with presenters offering technical expertise in many areas of agriculture. These are ongoing and air on the third Wednesday of each month at 11:30 a.m.
In 2006, a rainfall simulator trailer was acquired and accompanied staff to field days and other public events. In 2010, a new trailer with an improved rainfall simulator — the Conservation Station — was launched. Two trailers have since been added to form the Conservation Station fleet. The fleet goes to field days, county fairs, farmers markets, festivals and schools, enabling ILF to reach even more people, especially those who don't farm.
Field days are held on farmer partner fields, in their machine sheds and outbuildings. The first field day was on June 22, 2005, at John Kielkopf’s farm in Keokuk County with 22 attendees. That year, ILF held six field days with 108 people in attendance. In 2013, ILF hosted 30 farmer events with 1,969 attendees who saw practices first-hand, including no-till and strip-till, cover crops, bioreactors and wetlands.
After each field day, all attendees receive a survey in the mail asking them to evaluate the event. Did they learn something? Were the speakers informative? Will they implement any of the conservation practices they learned about? Another survey is sent in January asking if they actually changed their behavior. The results have been positive, showing that ILF is an effective program to help improve soil health and water quality.
Since 2004, ILF has reached approximately 75,000 people through these forms of outreach and ILF will continue to host field days, workshops and Conservation Station appearances. New videos are being produced; a blog and Facebook have also been added.
For more information about Iowa Learning Farms, visit the website http://www.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/.
Iowa Learning Farms is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319); in cooperation with Conservation Districts of Iowa, the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Water Center.
Photo caption: Attendees to an Iowa Learning Farms field day may see various conservation farming practices such as no-till, strip-till, and cover crops. This Montgomery County field day explored the benefits of cover crops using a soil root pit to show their root systems. Iowa Learning Farms commemorates 10 years in 2014. The program has reached more than 75,000 people through field days, events, workshops and more.