Counting our blessings: 1,165 acres of grassed waterways

Look down from a plane in any part of the state and you will see Iowa farmers’ commitment to soil and water conservation etched into the landscape.  Using aerial photos and Lidar from 2007-2010, the Iowa DNR and Iowa State University recently completed a statewide project to map and inventory six conservation practices.

The finished maps are available for most* of the Squaw Creek Watershed, so we tallied up the results.  It’s encouraging to see that even in a flat part of the state, producers have been doing a lot to control soil erosion.  Thank you for your stewardship!

  • 100 acres of contour buffer strips
  • 1,165 acres of grassed waterways
  • 173 miles of terraces
  • 230 water and sediment control basins
  • 21 farm ponds

However, while Iowa has made a lot of progress in addressing soil erosion, we are just beginning to address nutrient losses.  The dead zone in the Gulf this year was the size of Connecticut and shrinking it will require big changes in the way we farm.  From the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, here’s one scenario to get us there.

  • Nitrogen on all acres applied based on Maximum Return to Nitrogen
  • 60% of row crop acres planted with cover crops
  • 27% of cropland draining to a treatment wetland
  • 60% of drained cropland treated with a bioreactor

It’s important to keep both those thoughts in mind.  Let’s appreciate what farmers are already doing for conservation while being clear-eyed about the scale of the challenge.

*Two sub-watersheds in Hamilton County are still being checked for accuracy.  We’ll add this data once it becomes available for download.