Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator



Last month we published a new poster, or infographic, designed by a multi-state group of committed if unusual bedfellows working out how crop land and grazing livestock could improve everyone’s soil health and bottom lines. UMRI staff is part of that effort, in line with our mission that says good food needs better soil, and better soil needs cover, livestock, and a multitude of related soil-building practices. The infographic is generating some positive press, including this radio interview with the Midwest Farm Report. The funding grant is called “Match Made in Heaven: Livestock + Crops,” and the interview can be found here!

Here’s a taste of the interview: “Crop enterprises can save on fertilizer costs, break pest and disease cycles, add soil organic matter, market their cover crop as forages, and potentially receive ecosystem service credits. Livestock enterprises can use cover crops and crop aftermath to stretch the grazing season into winter. The first order of business for ‘Match Made in Heaven’ was an infographic that depicts those benefits.”

The infographic is free to share!  Our group, represented by universities, farmers and ranchers throughout the Midwest, conservation non-profits, state and federal agencies, livestock and crop associations, and a few miscellaneous others, are now focused on learning what stands in the way of farmers and landowners who could but don’t “tie the knot” for better soil health and a healthier bottom line. We are hosting challenging conversations to learn what we need to ask and the language to best ask it. The survey will take most of the next year of months. For a conversation or to become engaged with this project, please feel free to contact UMRI staff member, Caroline van Schaik.

Also see last month’s report here for some background.


A multi-state group of odd bedfellows arrived at this visual set of suggestions for how crop land and grazing livestock could improve everyone’s soil health and bottom lines. It is free to share; find a higher-resolution version here.



And Landowners


The case for engaging working farmland owners who themselves are not making hay or moving fence gets another UMRI take in the next several months, likely starting in Greene Co., Iowa. UMRI staff expect to join forces with a group of women charged with speaking out about what are called non-operating landowner possibilities. Our shared goal is to put conservation to work even when they themselves are not working their farms. And more to the point, to help landowners realize there is work they can do, what it might look like, and why they play a critical role in such issues as erosion control, the dramatic shifts in climate, challenged wildlife habitat, and safe water. Stay tuned for events; they are going to be good. Please contact Caroline van Schaik or Christine Curry as needed.

And for a take specifically on the power and role of women landowners, here’s a new piece by some of the nation’s leaders (including Iowa’s Dr. Jean Eells) in understanding this segment of non-operating landowners.

Conservation Journal Award


The Soil and Water Conservation Society Board of Directors has just announced its recipient of the 2022 Editor’s Choice Award and an article co-written by UMRI staff is it. The piece argues for managed grazing as a critical and appropriate tool for reinvigorating the landscape in the face of degenerative farmland practices that have eroded farm wealth and natural resources. It offers recommendations for policy, technical, and related changes to see this to fruition. “Accelerating regenerative grazing to tackle farm, environmental, and societal challenges in the upper Midwest” was recognized as “an article of excellence appearing in the A Section of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation in the previous year.” It can be found here.

Staff at the Wallace Center in collaboration with the Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group led the writing effort. UMRI Driftless Coordinator Caroline van Schaik is a member of the working group. Author information is here.


“Regenerative agriculture and grazing can help solve some of the UMRB’s most urgent challenges: the devastations of a shifting climate, poor water quality, rural community contraction, racial inequities, the financial struggle of the farm next door, and declining soil health. Yet as encompassing of environmental and societal problem solving as they are, the benefits of regenerative grazing continue to be undervalued and under-incentivized by actors ranging from federal and state governments to lenders, private sector agribusinesses, and universities. Expanding the use of regenerative practices requires a cross-cutting shift in how we think about agriculture and society (figure 3). Increased financial resilience coupled with comprehensive TA (including production and financial management) provide a foundation for additional interventions that will expand the adoption of regenerative grazing. Multifaceted systems change must be premised on a full grasp of the value of regenerative grazing in order to improve policy support, expand land access, provide supply chain supports, create flexible lending, reduce production risk, and fully reward the plethora of services provided on and beyond the farm. Further, dedicated centering of racial equity and labor justice along with targeted access to land, capital, TA, and other resources for BIPOC farmers will be crucial to ensuring this agricultural movement does not perpetuate the harms of previous movements.  A future characterized by a stable climate, resilient agro-ecosystems, thriving farms, and diverse, just communities throughout the UMRB is possible. Evidence indicates that significantly expanded adoption of regenerative grazing provides a path toward that future.”



While the paper makes a convincing argument for integrating managed grazing back into our Midwest working farm landscape, authors also were able to make a plea for equity as the requisite heart of regenerative practices.


UMRI’s “Thinking Like a Watershed” series has gone fishin’!


Not wishing to compete with long summer days – and who would want to! – we hosted our final 2022 “Thinking Like a Watershed” episode on June 7. Go outside! We will see you in January for stories to inspire a winter’s night, as told by ourselves and good partners on this road to a better landscape. The linked recording of the June 7 presentation – by the head of a 7th generation farm creatively grappling with urban sprawl – is below, as are links to all past programs. Take a listen, take some hope, and let us know if you would like us to consider a certain someone or topic in programs to come. And if you are new to the series, we use these words to describe what shapes it: This monthly series is a project of the Upper Mississippi River Initiative (UMRI) of the Izaak Walton League of America, with co-hosts Chris Henning of the Panora Conservation Chapter and Des Moines Chapter Communication Director, Bud Hartley. We feature guests for 30-40 minute presentations that shed daylight on good works done in the name of the Mississippi and its uplands. In this way we uplift our shared goals for a cleaner river, a cared for environment, and kinder communities. Recorded programs are available shortly after they air live.


Links to recent “Thinking” presentations


 “Your Locally Grown Alternative (Farm)”:  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ LaVon Griffieon- Tuesday June 7, 2022 How the 7th generation of a Century Farm family takes on urbanization, food security, and soil and livestock health… with farmstead matriarch, LaVon Griffieon


“Stream TEAM Science is (slowly) shifting policy!” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Tuesday, May 3, 2022
How E. coli & DNA data changed Mower Co. septic system practices…
A discussion with leaders Larry Dolphin, Bill Buckley, Mark Owens, lifelong members of the Izaak Walton League (IWLA), and Josh Balk, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR)


“The 2023 Farm Bill after 100 Years of Conservation!”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Duane Hovorka- April 12th, 2022
How the Izaak Walton League has influenced federal agriculture policy and what WE can do for next year’s Farm Bill…with Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director, Izaak Walton League of America


“Championing the Upper Mississippi River Region” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Mary Ellen Miller— March 8th, 2022
How a life-long conservationist became an advocate for the Mississippi…a League president discusses conservation & change with Mary Ellen Miller, President, League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region


“The POWER of 1 Mississippi & 20,000 River Citizens” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Kelly McGinnis— February 22nd, 2022 How 58 organizations team up to drive policy—“Can the river count on you?” A call to action…


Photo by: David Thoreson

Save Bloody Run Goes to Court”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Steve Veysey— January 4th, 2022  An update from a Dedicated Water Policy Scientist who has turned Radical to Save Bloody Run.

—“Heartland Heroines”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Robin Moore & Denise O’Brien— June 1, 2021  How two savvy conservationists empower working farm landowners to put their inner land ethic to work.

—“Planting Seeds to Grow Vibrant Communities”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Chris Deal & Art Cullen— May 4, 2021  How Jefferson, Iowa’s Chris Deal is working with California Rep. Ro Khanna and others to grow vibrant rural communities in the Heartland with perspectives from Pulitzer Prize—winning journalist and editor of The Storm Lake Times, Art Cullen.

—“Watershed Bridges— Green to Blue”   Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Vicki Nichols Goldstein & Seth Watkins— April 6, 2021  How improving soil health and water quality in Iowa and other inland states benefit watersheds that provide critical services from land to sea.

“Local Heroes in Howard County”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Neil Shaffer & Hunter Slifka— March 2, 2021  How they have incorporated several thousand acres of land under conservation programs–the largest percentage in Iowa.

“The Accidental Conservationist”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Wayne Fredericks— February 2, 2021  How an Iowa Farmer is Improving Natural Capital while Increasing Profits with Conservationist and Farmer, Wayne Fredericks from Mitchell County, Iowa.