On November 7, 2015 Prairie Rivers of Iowa hosted an informational field day which included a tour of two farms near Stratford, Iowa. The beautiful, crisp day filled with sunshine and pastoral landscape views created a perfect setting for learning about soil and water conservation practices such as prairie buffers, filter strips, wetlands, rotational grazing, and cover crops. The highlight of the day for many of the attendees was the hay-rack tour. It was a classic way to learn about two Iowa farms and their stewards. It’s
definitely safe to say that both the farmers and the group covered a lot of ground.
The first stop of the tour was at a ridge on Jim and Anita Johnson’s farm, Prairie Hill Farm of Hamilton County. From this location you could see the prairie field borders, a prairie filter strip, and a wetland surrounded by a large riparian area. This area intercepts water draining off their farmland, which includes rotational cattle pasture and row crops. It also intercepts some drainage from their neighbor’s field. At the point where the drainage paths converge there was an area of large gullies and erosion. Once converted to a prairie filter strip the area was stabilized, and the prairie plants remove excess nutrients from entering the wetland.
The Johnsons have done a lot of work to restore native prairie on their land. The increasingly diverse landscape has brought Jim and Anita many benefits including majestic views of river otters, migrating geese, and other wildlife species. In addition to erosion control, the vast root systems of prairie plants uptake nutrients, such as nitrogen, from the soil. This reduces the amount of nitrates entering Squaw Creek and further downstream.
The second farm on the tour was Jim McHugh’s farm. He farms approximately 400 acres which includes cattle pasture, row crops, cover crops, planted waterways, and a wetland. The first stop at his farm was one of his fields currently covered in oats. His system of cover cropping and rotational grazing is integral to his farm operation. He regularly states, “I have never seen my cows so fat and happy as when they graze on the oats and turnip cover crop.”
The second stop at McHugh’s farm was at the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetland. This wetland was installed after being identified by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship as a good site to filter a large area of field drainage. Jim says that, “I am more than pleased that I made the decision to let them implement this practice on my land. They told me the wetland is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.” The wetland stores water and slowly releases it while lowering nitrogen loss.
The third stop was more of a drive-by because there was so much good discussion at the previous stops that we were running out of time. This is McHugh’s corn field where he had rye cover crop seed flown in before harvesting. The rye was already germinating when he harvested and is growing into an impressive stand, which you can see from all the green coming up. These rye plants will uptake nutrients from the soil, such as nitrogen, and store them in the plant until spring. The plants will be killed off in the spring and will decompose adding the nutrients back to the soil for use by the new crops. The rye also acts as a soil stabilizer all winter long avoiding costly soil erosion from wind and water.
The wagons hurried back as burgers, grilled up by the Boone County Cattlemen, were filling the area with delicious smells. After everyone was able to get their food and warm up in the heated tent, there was some discussion about the day and the information provided. The majority of the food was sourced locally. The meat was from State Center Locker, the buns were from Dutch Oven Bakery, and the cookies were from Farmhouse Catering.
It was a great day to be out seeing
the hard work farmers have been doing to keep Iowa’s soil and water healthy. A field day is a great way to learn about and see how conservation practices are implemented and what the future of agriculture can look like in Iowa. Investing time and energy into building healthy soil protects our most vital resources and keeps farming profitable for future generations.
We want to thank the farmers, Jim and Anita Johnson and Jim McHugh, for hosting. We also want to thank the introduction speakers, Reed Riskedahl – Prairie Rivers of Iowa Board President, Paul Toot – Squaw Creek Watershed Authority Board President, Kirk Leeds – Iowa Soybean Association CEO. Thank you to the expert presenters Jamie Benning – Iowa State University Extension and Outreach (Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy), Mark Tomer – USDA Agricultural Research Service (Agriculture Conservation Planning Framework), and Kapil Arora – Iowa State University Extension and Outreach (Buffer Strips). They all had a lot of information and more details about their research can be found online. Thank you to our fellow sponsors of the day, Iowa Department of Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and Clean Water Iowa. As always, a thank you to our supportive Prairie Rivers of Iowa Board members and dedicated staff. We couldn’t have hosted this day without any of these contributors.
Thank you for coming out and participating in the field day! We hope everyone was able to leave more knowledgeable about conservation practices. Be on the look out for more events in the future.