Farm teaches about soil and water conservation practices

MELBOURNE, Iowa — With Iowa implementing its voluntary Water Quality Initiative, state and federal officials and farmers took a walking tour of soil and water conservation practices at a recent field day at the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors...

Tim Recker, right, describes water control structures at a conservation demonstration field day at the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors Association farm near Melbourne last week. The event was sponsored by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, LICA and the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

MELBOURNE — With Iowa implementing its voluntary Water Quality Initiative, government officials and farmers took a walking tour of soil and water conservation practices during a field day at the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors Association Farm near Melbourne.

The event was hosted by LICA and the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

"Iowa's nutrient reduction strategy calls for adoption of many of the practices found at the farm," said Roger Zylstra, a Lynnville farmer and ICGA president. "It's important for Iowa legislators to understand that water quality benefits extend beyond the farm and voluntary conservation allows for flexibility in fitting the right practices on individual farms."

The LICA farm was started to educate members on innovative practices, said Tim Recker, an Arlington farmer, excavating company owner and LICA and ICGA member. "Over time, we've changed our focus to using the farm to educate others, to get them talking about what things are being done and the value of these practices."

The farm has a sediment control basin, a rain garden, two types of terraces, grassed waterways, cover crops, a bioreactor and a series of wetlands that remove nitrates from tile water. Water flows from one pond into another and then into a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program wetland.


LICA members built the practices during summer field days. A deep water pond is the latest project. Excavating started last summer and will continue for several years.

Dan Rasmussen, Iowa LICA executive director from Jesup, said there is at least one practice on the LICA farm that everyone can try.

"Instead of thinking that everyone has to do 100 percent on everything, we need to think about getting everyone to do something because there are people who aren't doing anything," he said. "If everyone did a little, the combination of the whole would be better than it was before."

Bioreactors, which direct tile water at the edge of a field into a soil-covered wood chip trench and treat nitrates, could be installed in every field in Iowa where a tile line outlets into a creek, Recker said. Iowa State University research shows that bioreactors result in a 50 percent to 80 percent reduction in nitrates in water flowing through a bioreactor. The bioreactor at the LICA farm treats 40 acres.

The farm's 4.3-acre CREP wetland surrounded by a 203-acre grass buffer is treating 850 acres of tile-drained land, said Shawn Richmond, IDALS CREP coordinator. Iowa CREP is a state, federal, local and private partnership that provides incentives to landowners who voluntarily restore wetlands for water quality improvement in tile-drained regions. ISU monitoring of water going into and coming out of the wetland shows a 50 percent reduction in nitrates.

There are 72 CREP wetlands in Iowa and 23 sites under development, Richmond said. The program has a seven-year waiting list based on funding, Richmond said.

"This is a great show place for the kinds of practices we are promoting through the Iowa Water Quality Initiative," said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

The Legislature provided $22.3 million to support water quality and conservation efforts in the just-ended session.


"This funding will help us continue our efforts in targeted watersheds as well as provide funds to help farmers try new water quality practices statewide," Northey said.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Kiron Republican who started King Construction, an earth moving company, was among old friends at the field day.

"There is no doubt that I've built more miles of terrace and waterway than anyone in Congress," King said. "This goes deep with me. I spent thousands of hours in the field building structures, and as I worked out in the field I would think about how we get our productive farm land into the condition that it can sustain itself for the long term."

King said the work at the LICA farm is the model for conserving soil productivity and enhancing water quality.

"They're doing innovative and creative things here to keep nitrates out of water," King said. "These are 'can do' people."

King said the LICA farm shows how conservation resources get put on the ground.

"It is to the interest of people in cities because we need highly productive soils so everyone has something to eat, and we need water quality so we have water to drink," King said.

King said he enjoyed seeing the progress at the LICA farm.


"This has been the dream of people who worked on this for years," King said.

He remembers LICA members auctioning off an old owl over and over again at the state convention to raise money to buy the farm.

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