Farmers Encouraged to Use Water Quality Practices Supported by Research

September 2014

Nate Anderson and Bill NortheyAMES, Iowa – Nate Anderson, a Cherokee area farmer, had the perfect spot at the 2014 Farm Progress Show. Between large seed company tents and blocks filled with farm equipment, Anderson joined Iowa State University experts and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to talk about cover crops and no-till planting – two management tools he uses in his corn-soybean acreage program.

Anderson and Northey, two of the farmers featured in the nutrient management area of the Iowa State University tent, shared their management strategy experiences and listened as farmers talked about management practices for their own farms.

“It’s good for farmers to share their experiences and questions, and find out more about management practices they are considering,” said Anderson. “We need to keep talking and encouraging each other.”

Northey agrees, saying that farmers talking to farmers and learning from each other is going to be the way Iowa ramps up water quality efforts and the implementation of new management practices. “There’s a lot of momentum right now around implementing new practices,” Northey said. “Iowa farmers, universities and agribusiness have been working on water quality issues for a long time, certainly soil conservation issues, but the last few years we have focused on ramping that up.”

It was only natural that Anderson and Northey would be guest experts in the Farm Progress Show tent organized by Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Extension and Outreach. Anderson is a 2010 Iowa State graduate in agronomy and Northey’s state office, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, partnered with Iowa State University and Iowa Department of Natural Resources to create the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy as a way to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus loads in water leaving farm lands.

The best practices outlined in the strategy and the current initiative encouraging the implementation of those practices were the focus of one area of the Iowa State tent at the Farm Progress Show. Matt Helmers, Iowa State University professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering and extension water quality specialist, was the staff expert the day Northey and Anderson were at the show. Helmers said this is an opportune time for folks in agriculture to show that they can make a positive impact on water quality.

“Profitability is important to our farmers,” said Helmers, “Short-term and long-term profitability and economic vitality of agriculture in the state are tied to our soil resources. If we are not protecting our soil resources, we jeopardize the long-term profitability of our agricultural system.”

Helmers and other Iowa State researchers, faculty and extension specialists talked to farm show visitors about research being conducted around the suite of management practices outlined in the state strategy. Helmers said research is looking at how well the practices are performing, related costs and long-term benefits.

Water quality initiative funding from the Iowa legislature is enticing farmers to try practices new to them. “We’ll learn more by doing,” said Northey. “We encourage every farmer to find something that works for them – try cover crops in a small way, try no-till or strip-till, look at getting cost share on a bioreactor. We are seeing a great success in farmer participation.”

He said the number of acres with cover crops has doubled each of the last few years and there are increasing numbers of farmers trying no-till, strip-till and nitrification inhibitors.

“Young farmers like Nate Anderson will be part of figuring out what this next generation of conservation ethic is, and how we care for the land, how we improve water quality. It’s fun to join Iowa State in these conversations.”

More information about the water quality initiative best management practices is available in the ISU Extension and Outreach publication, Reducing Nutrient Loss: Science Shows What Works, available from the Extension Online Store, Take a closer look at the practices and Iowans implementing them at The clean water Iowa website includes best practices for residential and urban, and city and industry, as well as for farms.