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Water Quality: High Priority for Farmers

by Ken Root

Listen Here: Profit Matters 12-7-16
tap-water-749x415Iowa grows millions of acres of crops that are watered by mother nature. The problem is that rainfall is sometimes too much for fields to hold all the water and soak it into the ground.

The runoff takes nutrients and pesticides with it. There is also the challenge of tile drainage of fields which transfers nutrients into streams.

Water Quality, has emerged as one of the biggest challenges of 21st century farming in the Midwest.

Farmers in Iowa are taking on the monumental task of reducing the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus to the environment, improving soil health, and limiting the impact of agricultural production on watersheds along the Mississippi River.

Jim Jordahl, director of programs and operations for the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance , explains, “Water Quality has been a topic of conversation and planning for several years now as states in the Mississippi River Basin work toward their goal of decreasing nutrient runoff by 45%.”

Jordahl adds that the state’s first edge-of-field bioreactor was installed just 10 years ago. There are 75 currently installed, but approximately 120,000 are needed throughout the state. Many advancements have also been made in cover crop applications and tillage practices. “It takes a few year to see the soil health and water quality benefits of no-till and strip-till practices. Growers utilizing them saw an average phosphorous loss reduction of some 90% in surface runoff.”

Jordahl continued by saying, “When it comes to planting cover crops many farmers have taken on the practice. Six years ago there was only about 10,000 acres of cover crops in Iowa. Today, there is an estimated 500,000 acres.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has been helping farmers by demonstrating these practices in selected watersheds to raise awareness. But moving to the next stages of implementation across all of Iowa will not be easy, Jordahl says “We’ve got to begin to establish the infrastructure that this undertaking will require at full scale. We are talking about lots of seed, trucks, and airplanes to deliver the supplies necessary. It will take an investment.”

With lower commodity prices top-of-mind, it can be tough to get buy-in on projects that sound like they might be an upfront expense to the farmer, so IAWA is focusing on educational and outreach efforts.

Iowa farmers, commodity groups and researchers have their work cut out for them when it comes to reducing nutrient runoff from agricultural land. While the goals seem lofty, they can be achieved.

To learn more about best farming practices that can help to improve water quality in Iowa and throughout the Midwest, visit Verdesian Life Sciences online at (www.groundwork.ag). To learn more about the Iowa Ag Water Alliance visit (www.iowaagwateralliance.com).