This article is from the Summer 2007 edition of the Extension Connection newsletter.
Using a rainfall simulator, the Iowa Learning Farm is giving farmers a “visual opportunity” to see what they can do to prevent sediment runoff from their fields. Iowa State University Extension is a partner in this project that demonstrates and promotes conservation management systems.
The rainfall simulator features four different surface areas to show farmers what happens when rain hits a parking lot vs. a field covered with 30 percent crop residue, 100 percent residue and 30 percent residue with a grass filter strip.
“The ideal is that farmers would leave 100 percent residue cover and use a grass buffer strip, but we acknowledge that sometimes that’s just not possible,” said Matt Helmers, ISU Extension agricultural engineer. “We’re providing a visual opportunity for farmers to see what they can do to improve their management practices.”
John Lundvall, ISU Extension program specialist in agronomy, said the rainfall simulator is a fun tool to teach children and farmers alike the different ways to improve water quality by preventing sediment and mineral loss.
“We’re trying to find the best solution for farmers,” Lundvall said. “But there are going to be some areas where leaving residue just isn’t an option.”
For example, an option for urban areas is to design pavement with more cracks to allow water to get into the ground instead of running off into the sewer system or building up on roads, Lundvall said.
Robert Lawson, a soil conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), thinks the rainfall simulator is a great resource. “The more farmers listen to the message, the greater the impact will be on the community. The more that Extension shares the conservation message, the more the public will be aware of what they can do.”
The rainfall simulator lives in a specially adapted trailer, Helmers said, so it is “on the road” compatible. ISU Extension has been sending it all over Iowa this summer including an appearance during RAGBRAI and several county fairs. Check the Iowa Learning Farm Web site, www.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/, for a list of events that will feature the simulator.