This spring, planting season took off in the State of Iowa as the temperatures warmed up in the soils. We are seeing a multitude of conservation practices at work in the Squaw Creek watershed with each farmer implementing what works best on their land.

Strip Tillage

One farmer hard at work out in the field is Jeremy Gustafson, a diversified farmer who grows corn and soybeans along with raising hogs in the Squaw Creek Watershed. Gustafson, a Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner for Boone County, implements strip-tillage as a conservation practice to protect his soil from erosion.  Gustafson comes from a multi-generational family farm and has been managing his farm with conservation in mind for over ten years.

Jeremy Gustafson, Boone County Farmer, tilling strips on his farm. April 2016.

Strip tillage is a conservation tillage system in which only strips of soil are worked before planting. This allows for the soil to warm up and dry out for planting. Seeds are then planted directly into the strips. This practice improves the soil health and water quality because it reduces wind erosion, improves soil organic matter, creates wildlife habitat, allows for more precise nutrient management, conserves energy, and improves seed germination due to increased soil temperatures. Like many conservation practices, it excels when used in combination with other conservation practices. Gustafson uses strip till along with cover crops in the field. Other practices on his fields include grassed waterways, buffers, and a wetland site to take a multi-pronged approach to address natural resource concerns.

Gustafson Strip Till
Gustafson explains how his strip till bar works out in the field. April 2016.

How does he do it?

The 130-acre field Gustafson was working in during our site visit was being planted into corn this year. He uses strip-till, as well as applies liquid nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Immediately following tillage and application of nutrients, he plants his corn. After seeding, he will perform a spring nitrate test and sidedress fertilizer to support a healthy crop. Later this season before harvest, he will fly on cereal rye in this field in order to protect the soil and cycle nutrients through the non-row crop growing season.

Fields of Green in the spring

Tracy Johnson, a farmer who manages land in both Boone and Hamilton County, planted triticale (a rye wheat hybrid) in one of his fields in the northern part of the Squaw Creek Watershed. Johnson, a corn and soybean producer and livestock operator, uses his cover crops as alternative forage for his livestock in the spring. Other conservation practices he  is currently using include: sidedressing his nitrogen application, applying  manure to his fields, conducting grid soil sampling to enable determination of more precise nitrogen rate, and has an extended crop rotation plan.

Johnson planted triticale in fall 2015. His farm ground saw good coverage this spring with this cover crop.
Johnson planted triticale in fall 2015. His farm ground saw good coverage this spring with this cover crop.

Continued Conservation…

This spring, Johnson planted some of his acres into alfalfa and orchard grass. He is using this grass mix to protect his soil from erosion and to provide forage for his livestock. This is called an extended rotation and is used to reduce nitrogen loss. Johnson also economically benefits by growing his own forage for his livestock.

Practice diversity can create watershed-wide improvements

Practices like these can help build resilient soils for ever-changing weather conditions and improve the water quality in Iowa. Farmers and landowners in the Squaw Creek Watershed find which conservation practices work for their operation and their conservation goals. Conservation Champions, like Jeremy Gustafson in Boone County and Tracy Johnson in Hamilton County, are leading the way in conservation efforts while maintaining a profitable operation to pass on to a future generation of family farmers.