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Investing in healthy soils

Photo courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The Fertilizer Institute reports a continued investment in nutrient management and stewardship, but a national organization argues the investment needs to be done on a larger scale.

Susanne Hickey is director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy in Iowa. Hickey says Iowa farmers have adopted and implemented a variety conservation practices. However, she believes farmers across the state need to increase the scale of such practices.

“What we’re trying to do with 4R Plus is think about how to integrate conservation practices with agronomic practices like nutrient management and cover crops, and how the farmer integrates that into his, or her, existing operation. These aren’t things you can do immediately overnight, but you need to think about your operation here in the near-term and long-term,” Hickey said.

Hickey reminds farmers – soil health impacts the longevity of a farming operation. She suggests growers learn more about nutrient management and conservation through a newly launched program, called 4R Plus.

“(By) getting involved with 4R Plus, a farmer can realize long-term and near-term soil health benefits,” Hickey said. “Cover crops can help with soil moisture management. If we go into a dry period, cover crops have been shown to manage soil moisture better and improve soil health. These farmers (also) live out in the community. Conservation practices like wetlands can improve the downstream water quality for all of Iowa.”

Some practices nutrient management and conservation practices require implementation costs. Hickey believes the long-term benefits outweigh initial costs.

“There are costs to some of the edge of field practices – things like treatment wetlands and saturated buffers. There are costs associated, but there are also other benefits,” Hickey said. “Wildlife benefits can turn into recreational, hunting benefits. That can help the broader community.”

Hickey also reminds farmers of cost-share programs available for conservation practices through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).