Cover Crops at the Small Watershed Scale

Learning Farms webinar will explore small watersheds

February 24, 2021, 12:04 pm | Hilary Pierce

Matt Helmers.AMES, Iowa – The impact of cover crop implementation on water quality in two small watersheds is the topic of the Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday, March 3.  

During this webinar, Matt Helmers, director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University, will highlight three years of water quality monitoring data after cover crop implementation. The Conservation Learning Lab project, started in 2016, posed the question, “Can high levels of cover crop implementation and reduced tillage be obtained on a small watershed scale, and water quality improvement documented accordingly?” The project focused on small watersheds — between 500 and 1,300 total acres in size — and two pilot watersheds were chosen in Floyd and Story counties.

Helmers is also professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering and extension agricultural engineering specialist at Iowa State. The watersheds were chosen for their size and existing Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program wetlands that provided baseline water quality monitoring data. The continued monitoring allows for the comparison of water quality before and after conservation practice implementation and to a similarly sized control watershed that did not implement conservation practices.

“Water quality monitoring at the watershed scale is critical for documenting nutrient reduction from practice implementation,” said Helmers. “Seeing water quality improvement may take years.”

Helmers’ research focuses on agricultural water quality, including the impact of nutrient management, cropping practices, drainage design and management, and strategic placement of buffer systems on nutrient export in agricultural landscapes.

Webinar Access Instructions

To participate in the live webinar, shortly before noon on March 3:

The webinar will also be recorded and archived on the ILF website, so that it can be watched at any time. Archived webinars are available at

A Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit has been applied for, for those who are able to participate in the live webinar. Information about how to apply to receive the CEU will be provided at the end of the live webinar.

About Iowa Learning Farms

Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation by encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices that improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable. Partners of Iowa Learning Farms include the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319) and GROWMARK Inc.

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