Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator

Worthwhile watching and listening – soil and water health in action, conservation from afar, mulling Carbon sequestration versus ecosystem health legislation

Workshops of Late

Like many farmers this season, I’ve been “attending” workshops online in place of the more typical road trips to catch up, learn, poke an idea, and visit a bit before the growing season takes over. I may have dodged the ice storms but I bumped smack into the things I didn’t leave behind! Family demands, chores, and the unexpected demands that destroy the best of real-time intentions are being saved by recorded presentations and You Tube accounts!

Toward that, let me point you to some gems:

a. Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Annual Conference – Some of this late-January event’s workshops are now on their You Tube channel here:  Carbon sequestration, livestock on cropped acres, ecosystem health bills, social change, conservation, rabbits…well worth some time.

b. The National Save Our Streams (SOS) folks hosted a discussion on nitrates during a webinar in late February. While it was Iowa and Upper Midwest focused, the take-homes were unmistakably universal: farmland-sourced nitrogen run off is contaminating water being treated at huge expense when land management practices at a fraction of the cost could go a long ways to removing the BandAid for keeps. This IS a corn belt matter. Expect regulation. And if Iowa laws permit over-application of manure, there is no turning an eye from the fact that there are insufficient fields on which to do so. It is a problem, even if the Des Moines Waterworks lawsuit made little impact on how farmers farm. As one speaker said, again, expect regulation. Listen to it here!

c. Farmland owners who don’t themselves farm those acres present an opportunity if you can help them see their power. Robin Moore of Land Stewardship Project was interviewed on the topic in this brief but packed session from LSP’s Ear to the Ground series.

d. And to listen to a farmer who is deeply engaged with his land and has plenty to say about its conservation while he is making a good living, sit in front of Iowa’s Wayne Fredericks for a bit. He could probably sell you anything but that he is focused on soil microbes, erosion control, and cleaner water while raising corn and beans is more than a little encouraging.

e. Fredericks’ program was the first of a new series being hosted by our Upper Mississippi River Initiative (UMRI) staff. “Thinking Like a Watershed: 2021 Series on Soil and Water Conservation” picks up again on Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2021 at 7 p.m. with Howard County soil health activists who also wear agency hats. Register Here!


Spotlights Take II

Here’s one to share with your township board and county commissioner, both of whom have to make tough decisions about how to spend our tax dollars.  Here is the gist of this poster: Road and culvert blowouts, fierce storms, and bare farm fields demand increasing, and increasingly expensive, mitigation based on land management practices that could be altered for a much better end. Saving money and soil are good ends made possible when elected officials help landowners to keep their soil on the farm and everyone’s road intact. Put another way, the cost of repairing a flooded road could instead buy landowners plenty of cover crop seed – those roots and that vegetation make for a good chance the soil will stay put even in a bad storm. UMRI is a member of the Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group (MPFWG) of Green Lands Blue Waters, the coalition that designed this poster to bridge our commitment to perennial soil cover with practical realities when soil is left vulnerable to erosion. It is free to download and share widely.

“Severe storms don’t have to take out our roads and culverts. This infographic is available for sharing widely with county and township officials, Extension educators, and other agriculture agents who face erosion issues in need of fixing or better, preventing”

And then one more to read and share, a piece published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation (JSWC) and available here! It is entitled, “Regenerative Agriculture as a Solution,” and in short sections, explores the many points of intervention that living roots, covered soil, livestock, and an overarching requisite for justice offer a myriad of issues plaguing our landscape. Spearheaded by UMRI partners at the Wallace Center at Winrock International, the article was co-written with members of the MPFWG, including UMRI staff Caroline van Schaik.

Figure 1 from the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation article entitled, “Regenerative Agriculture as a Solution.”

And lastly, don’t forget that you can spend some delightful time learning how to be a stream monitor during winter – now – in preparation for the final in-person segment of training. In-person – yes, we have our trainer ready to go when we all get the green light to gather safely. Maybe this late summer, maybe early October…you must get ready now by studying your way through about two-thirds of what you need to know to do your own monitoring. It’s not as much fun as learning the whole SOS program together but, it’s fun anyways! Here is what you need to do/ know to get going!