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COVID-19 relief updates and new consensus advice for managing cover crops and other conservation practices | The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, Episode 37

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Welcome to Episode 37 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast.

Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill discusses important COVID-19 relief for agriculture.

Iowa Food Bank Association (IFBA) Executive Director Linda Gorkow talks about food banks’ urgent needs, and how a new $100,000 donation by Iowa Farm Bureau is making a difference. Visit IowaFBA.org to help IFBA, your regional food bank, or your local food pantry.

Iowa State University (ISU) cover crops expert Dr. Mark Licht shares insights from a new manual with consensus recommendations (from ISU, USDA and other leading scientists and technical specialists) on managing your cover crops and other conservation practices. Click here to download the manual.

ISU farm safety expert Dr. Chuck Schwab offers tips for a safe planting season (including tips pertaining to COVID-19 prevention).

Click here to view the transcript +
Narrator: Since 1934 Iowa's farmers have turned to the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman as their trusted news source. Now, The Spokesman Speaks. Listen in and hear from leading experts on topics important to farmers and agriculture. Now, here's your host.

Delaney Howell: Welcome to the April 20th edition of The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. I'm Delaney Howell and this episode is packed with information that should hit close to home as Iowa agriculture responds to the COVID-19 pandemic and kicks off the 2020 growing season simultaneously. Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill will update us on ag’s evolving response to COVID-19 then Iowa Food Bank Association Executive Director Linda Gorkow will share the most pressing needs for Iowa's food banks right now and how a new $100,000 donation from the Iowa Farm Bureau will help provide more than 500,000 meals. Next, we'll switch over to conservation. April 22nd is Earth Day, after all. Iowa State University's Dr. Mark Licht will introduce us to a new manual with consensus conservation recommendations for Iowa farmers developed by Iowa State, USDA and other ag groups. And we'll close the episode with some important spring safety tips including COVID-19 prevention from Iowa State's Dr. Chuck Schwab. Wow, this episode is going to be jam packed, so let's start with president Craig Hill. Spokesman Editor Dirck Steimel called President Hill last week to discuss the wide ranging impacts of COVID-19 and how Farm Bureau is advocating for farmers as the situation evolves.

Dirck Steimel: Craig, USDA is working on the details of how the Cares Act funding will be distributed to farmers. Why is it so important for the department to work quickly on that relief?

Craig Hill: Well, you know the COVID-19 pandemic event struck at a very vulnerable time for U.S. agriculture. We had already a very weak farm economy. We had trade uncertainty that left quite a big hole in our demand structure. Most enterprises on the farm were working below cost production, looking at prices in the future that may be a low cost production. Current decade has provided us the lowest farm income levels of the past decade. Current ratios are very, very low cash resources were quite strained and rising debt levels. So, you know, we're very vulnerable at this juncture and the COVID-19 pandemic event is just going to exacerbate the problems that we already had with income. So I think the most important thing we can do is restore confidence, restore confidence in our farmers, their families that we're going to be able to meet our current obligations and that's going to be a cash infusion. It's also going to be important to our bankers. We can't predict how long the duration of this event, but we know certainly that we need cash and we need it now to pay our bills.

Dirck Steimel: American Farm Bureau recently sent a letter to Secretary Perdue with recommendations on how to prioritize aid to farmers. Which of those recommendations stand out for you as critical for Iowa agriculture?

Craig Hill: We had a host of recommendations, but first of all, I'd like to mention that the Cares Act that came about provided some funding and that funding is going to be distributed amongst a whole host, a whole basket of farm commodities. Just $14 billion to the Commodity Credit Corporation and nine and a half billion dollars to the secretary, Secretary Perdue for his discretion to put together, you know, market facilitation payment like programs. We had encouraged $50 billion going to Commodity Credit Corporation. We thought those funds would be needed and available to address the support as it will be rationed around the country. You know, livestock would be an important direction for that focus. How those dollars will be rationed, but also keeping the supply chain moving. Labor is an important part and production, but in Iowa, a very important part of processing. And so we have to keep labor available to keep the supply chain moving as well as transportation and all of those various sectors that as far as the food supply chain.

Dirck Steimel: Craig, COVID-19 crisis as you mentioned, has been very hard on cattle farmers and really all livestock producers. Why should USDA put a special focus on the livestock sector as it develops its aid plan?

Craig Hill: Well, you know, keep in mind the perishable nature of livestock grain for example, we can hold a band, we can prolong or sales, or, you know, set it aside and hope for prices to rise later and make those sales down the road. But when livestock are ready for market they're ready and our facilities are designed to move them out efficiently. Both cattle and hogs and poultry and turkey and all the things we do in the livestock sector and refill with new animals. And so we don't have the luxury of waiting. And, so you know, I think the livestock sector needs to be the first addressed. And then I also had mentioned that we've had, I believe, some various market manipulations that have occurred some unreasonable disruptions in the supply chain. And I, you know, I look at the market concentration of our beef processors at 80%. It lends itself to manipulation. And so we need to study that. We need to explore if everything legal is being done properly. And so trade flow and trade relationships of course are important to keep intact, but we also want to make sure everybody's living up to their obligations of the marketplace.

Dirck Steimel: Craig, ethanol prices have also been hit hard and some plants scaled back or even temporarily shut down. Why is ethanol such a big issue, not only for corn farmers, but also for livestock farmers?

Craig Hill: Well, of course you know, the ethanol industry's consuming about 40% of our corn production. As a result of that, there are a number of derivatives DDGs, which is a livestock feed and CO2, which helps supply our processing facilities with the needed product for them. So it's a big, big consumer of our production of corn. And I'd also mentioned of course, soybeans through biodiesel and energy there, but the energy sector has been confronted with, you know, not only the pandemic event, which is limited use of a petroleum or liquid fuels, but also there's been rather a war erupted between Russia and OPEC led Saudi Arabia with flooding the market with cheap oil. So we have these two events going on, both the pandemic event and this global energy war that erupted about the same time and it has really devastated our ethanol industry. Their production is very unprofitable right now. And to be profitable I've been told that corn would need to trade down around $2.60 cents, which would be devastating to the grain producers. So we have a lot of concerns in ethanol and we need to get those addressed immediately before we see more plant closures.

Dirck Steimel: You mentioned this before, but I just want to touch on it again. The ag supply chain, particularly meat processing plants look very vulnerable right now. We've heard of some Iowa plants closing, plants in other states closing. Why is that such a big issue for Iowa livestock farmers?

Craig Hill: You know, I somewhat addressed that, and you know, when our livestock are ready for harvest, when it's time to move them down the chain and get them to the consumer you need everything operating efficiently. But rather constrained with packer processing and with our facilities both and beef and pork. And when one plant shuts down, it has devastating effects on the marketplace and we need to keep everything running efficiently. And that includes a healthy labor force. And of course we recommend following all the protocols that have been let out by government, you know, safe distancing and, and all those things. But we need to keep product moving. We need timely movement, production output, and we need also the timely movement in a different area in the inputs to our farms as we continue to produce very important food supply.

Dirck Steimel: Finally, Craig, despite the difficulties agriculture is facing, we know that farmers are doing their part to help others impacted by the pandemic. For example, Iowa Farm Bureau just donated $100,000 to the Iowa Food Bank Association and has offered to match county Farm Bureau's donations up to $500. Why is Farm Bureau and agriculture in general so committed in helping with relief and why are they food bank donations so important now?

Craig Hill: Well, regardless of the challenges that farmers, agriculture faces, we look out for one another. When someone's hurting or needs help rural people step up. We always have, even when times are tough, we lend a hand and we lend a hand to those in need. And this is something that we as a farm organization and as community leaders can do. Our county Farm Bureaus I know are engaged in this as well as the Iowa Farm Bureau is just an important thing for us to do at this time. And we want to support, you know, all Iowans, all consumers, it's what we do, and this is just a great option for us to do that service.

Delaney Howell: You heard President Hill say that rural Iowans step up when times are tough and lend a hand. That's so true. We see it in our local communities all the time and since food banks have been hit particularly hard by this pandemic, we wanted to check in with Iowa Food bank Association Executive Director Linda Gorkow to see what rural Iowans can do to help. Iowa Farm Bureau recently donated $100,000 to the Iowa Food Bank Association enough to help provide 550,000 meals. They also committed to matching local food bank donations by county Farm Bureaus up to $500. According to Linda, that's the kind of boost that Iowa's food banks can really use right now.

Linda Gorkow: Food banks, even prior to the pandemic, they were serving 10.9% of Iowans with 15.3% of children going to bed hungry. So the situation that we had was of great need and with the pandemic happening, we're starting to see the loss of wages, difficulty accessing food and the really relying and increased need and relying on the food banks to fill the plates of those in need. The job disruptions and a lack of paid sick leave and the health threats are disproportionate impact on the elderly and the low income families. We know that number is growing daily. When we look at the need, we've had double digit increases. Every food bank across the state of Iowa, there are six food banks that serve Iowa. We work with 1,200 pantries so that we all work together and we distribute the food to those that are in need. In 2019 we distributed about 38 million meals across the state of Iowa. With the double digit increases we are working constantly, not only with the pandemic providing more food, it's more also converting the way that we do our work. Rather than just handing out the food we have to box it and have to take in consideration the safety of employees or workers in those that we serve. So rather than having choice pantries, we've gone to distributing food boxes with all of our pantries and doing drive bys. So the variety of things that are coming down our way is, you know, the lack of the food rescue because of the first couple of weeks of this pandemic, there was not extra food for the food banks to pick up and we rely heavy on that. And then we were experiencing the high number of volume of people that were in need and converting over to the food boxes almost all at the same time. So it has been a very busy time for the food banks during the pandemic, just like everyone else.

Delaney Howell: Of course, Iowa's food banks don't just rely on dollars and food donations. They rely on a network of volunteers that are also being impacted by COVID-19.

Linda Gorkow: Those volunteers have been incredible. We wouldn't be able to and will not be able to do our work without the volunteers. Unfortunately, one of the areas that we have the biggest volunteer base is our seniors and those are the people that are being quarantined and we don't want to be at risk. So we're looking for new volunteers in a variety of people that might be available to volunteer. Our priority is protecting our volunteers to the best of our ability. All the processes are in place. We are also in need of PPE but we do not want to take away from the healthcare workers. So that has been another challenge for us. Sanitizers, have to have food safe sanitizing for our food banks. We cannot allow that area to be unclean in any way. So, sanitization is very important for us as well as gloves and masks. That's where we're headed. We have not used masks in the first couple of weeks because there was not the availability, but we're looking for those that we do not want to take away from the healthcare workers at all.

Delaney Howell: As you might guess, the need for additional food and boxes along with the need for PPE and sanitizing supplies does come at a cost, which is where Farm Bureau and folks like you can step up to the plate.

Linda Gorkow: The biggest item is the amount of work that we've had to shift from not using boxes to boxes. We did receive some boxes in. They're very expensive, so all the work that we're doing is much more expensive than we are used to doing. We're very good at working on a nickel and making it go faster and longer as possible but with the purchasing of food, have shelf stable food to put in the boxes, transportation to get to all areas. The increased expenses of additional food and food that we would not have otherwise ordered the financial burden has become great. That's why Farm Bureau's gracious donation is making an impact with the initial donation of $100,000 that provides over half a million meals right there, but with each county's donations, that will make even more of an impact. Every dollar we're able to raise, we make an effort across the state to provide 5.5 meals. So every dollar that's donated makes a great impact. Usually we are always seeking non-perishable in food donations as much as possible, but because the operations have turned to such a building of boxes and getting the transportation out to people in need and the high volume they'll accept donations but really the best way to help is either through a monetary donation or volunteering, if at all possible. Food insecurity is not who a person is. It's a time in their life that they are in need of additional support. In fact, a survey just taken late in 2019 indicated 70% of Americans had less than a thousand dollars saved and 45% had no savings. So this COVID-19 has created a significant challenges for the increasing number of Iowans that needs the most basic need of food. Disruptions happen in life and it's important for us to feed each other through everything that we're going through. So we thank everyone for nurturing the growth of Iowa. And we thank Iowa Farm Bureau for always being a strong partner in helping grow a better and stronger Iowa.

Delaney Howell: We appreciate those thoughts from Linda and even more importantly, we appreciate the work she and her staff and volunteers are doing to feed fellow Iowans during this difficult time. You also might have heard, Linda mentioned there that the Iowa Food Bank Association works with a network of six regional food banks and more than 1,200 food pantries throughout the state, so we'd encourage you to head out to their website that's Iowafba.org to volunteer or make a donation of your own. We'll also include a link to the Food Bank Associations website in the notes for this podcast episode so you can click there as well. One more quick reminder before we move on. Of course, these COVID-19 conversations with Craig Hill and Linda Gorkow happened leading up to the release of this April 20th episode. So they're based on the best info we had available at the time. Due to the rapidly evolving nature of this pandemic we encourage you to follow updates from the governor's office, the CDC, USDA, and other state and federal agencies for the very latest information. Okay, so back to the fields. With the exception of some stray snow spring is here and Earth Day is just around the corner. So I'm guessing many of you are thinking about how you'll manage your existing conservation practices during the growing season and your options for adding new practices in 2020. Cover crops are a practice that have burst onto the Iowa scene. The Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council estimates that Iowa farmers planted more than 2 million acres of cover crops in 2018 which is up pretty drastically considering that just a decade ago we had only roughly 10,000 acres of cover crops. Until now the management practices recommended for cover crops varied greatly depending on which expert you asked or read. That's true of many other conservation practices as well. As Iowa farmers innovate and adopt brand new practices like saturated buffers and bio-reactors it's sometimes difficult to know which management options are the best. To give farmers more confidence in their conservation choices a group of leading Iowa scientists and technical specialists got together, found consensus on a range of conservation practices and earlier this year they published their management recommendations in the new Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices manual. You can find that manual in the Iowa State Extension store and we've linked to it in the notes for this podcast’s episode so you can click on it there too. Iowa State's Dr Mark Licht is one of the experts who helped develop the manual and Farm Bureau's very ow Zach Bader recently called him up and talked about it.

Zach Bader: Joined over the phone now by Mark Licht of Iowa State University. He's a cropping system specialist, a professor, a cover crops expert and one of the point people behind the release of this new Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices manual. Mark, can you tell us a little bit about the purpose of the manual? When was it released and what's the goal?

Dr. Mark Licht: So, this really came out of a number of discussions between Iowa State University, the Iowa Learning Farms, Practical Farmers of Iowa and the NRCS. And part of it was because there's just so much information and educational opportunities around cover crops right now. And we were starting to hear from farmers and industry agronomists that were saying, Hey, some of this isn't really meshing up. You know, and part of that was if I'm talking, you know, from a crop production standpoint and someone else talking from an environmental water quality perspective, you know, we could be saying conflicting things at times. And so we were having these conversations about how do we do this? And then the NRCS released a call for proposals on what we've termed as a partnership grant. So that's kind of the funding mechanism that really got the people at the table to do this. And so we started in earnest with this Whole Farm Conservation Practices manual and the process to develop it in the fall of 2018 we did a series of summits bringing in experts, you know, from the university, but then also NRCS, the ARS with USDA, Practical Farmers of Iowa. Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Ag Water Alliance. And so there was a lot of different individuals that were participating in these summits. And really our objective was to come to consensus around some of these practices. We did rely on, you know, the subject matter experts, you know, for individual pieces of this. But then we were able to have that discussion to say, well wait a second, if we do something, you know, for reducing diseases, you know, that may have an implication in another part of this. And so it was a really a nice opportunity to get a lot of people at the table to really think through these recommendations to make sure that they were solid. And you know, the whole goal was to set farmers up for success. And this was, you know, all couched in the premise that, you know, we're really looking at new adopters, so people with zero to three years of experience with these practices.

Zach Bader: And so this manual includes recommendations for both in field and edge of field practices. Which practices are involved here, Mark?

Dr. Mark Licht: With the infield practices what we've got included is cover crops, no tillage and strip tillage and diverse rotations. And then within each of those we've been trying to include kind of the nutrient management aspects. So rather than having nutrient management as a standalone, we've kind of pulled it into each of the individual segments there. As far as the edge of field practices right now it includes wetlands, saturated buffers, bio-reactors, control drainage and prairie strips. One of the nice things about this manual is the way we've constructed it and put it together is as we have more confidence in additional practices, whether it's research or just practical experience, we're able to add those in down the road. So I do look at this as kind of a living document that says, you know, as we learn more about either the practices that we already have in here or other practices, we can make those changes, add things into it.

Zach Bader: So what do you think farmers are going to find in this manual that maybe they haven't heard somewhere else? I know you mentioned that the idea that you're bringing together these stakeholders for consensus that's unique about it. Anything else in there that, that you feel like will stick out to farmers?

Dr. Mark Licht: In some respects, it is a how to manual and it includes, you know, all the various aspects of these practices, you know, and the, the fine tuning of various management practices. So in, in some respects it's a kind of a one stop shop. At the same time while it is a one stop shop, we recognize that there are other resources out there that can help enhance or supplement this manual. And so hopefully this is a nice starting point as we start to think about the adoption of these practices. And then, you know, it builds on that by going out and finding those supplemental resources. Additionally toward the end of the manual, there are decision trees are decision tools that kind of help farmers walk through some of the decision points that need to be made. As we start to think about adopting practices.

Zach Bader: So let's talk specifically about cover crops. That's a practice of course, that's known to help reduce nitrogen and phosphorous loss while improving soil health. But it's still of course a relatively new practice here in Iowa. And up until now it seems like the recommendations that you might've gotten for management of those cover crops might have depended on who you talk to. So which experts were involved in making your cover crop recommendations and how did you arrive at consensus on that particular issue?

Dr. Mark Licht: That's a really good question. In total, they were, as far as the cover crop segments of this, there were 20 to 25 experts in the room. It was a very diverse group of individuals. And really what we did is we just started to kind of talk through you know, what recommendations were being made and when there were discrepancies, you know, then we started to try to figure out what does the science tell us? What do the research trials tell us? And to some extent we could look at our research trials, for instance, my research trials a lot of times are focused on the growth and development of not only the cover crop, but also the corn or soybean crop. I have some, I'll call them assessments. They're visual assessments of weed control or disease and things like that. While those are maybe a little bit softer, we're able to pull those observations in to help make those recommendations or to deal with any discrepancies that are found there. So there's a lot of give and take. There was a lot of heated discussions really trying to make this, you know, a manual that could get back to, you know, helping farmers, you know, with adoption of these be successful.

Zach Bader: So let's talk about some of those specific cover crop recommendations. Starting with spring termination. What's the recommendation on when and how to terminate a cover crop in the spring and how did you arrive at that consensus?

Dr. Mark Licht: So this is a good example of, you know, how we had to bend a little bit in, in our ways of thinking, you know, depending, the topical area, what we really came down to for those overwintering cover crops, so cereal rye is the main one that we were focused on, but other overwintering cover crops kind of fit into this as well. So ahead of corn we talked about needing to terminate when that cover crop is about eight inches tall or 10 to 14 days ahead of corn planting, whichever kind of comes first. And with soybeans it was three to seven days before soybean planting or when that cover crop gets about 12 inches tall. Again, whichever comes first. So those decisions really got balanced because we're focused on not wanting to have a detrimental effect on either the corn or soybean yields. But also looking into the data of the seedling diseases and what does that mean as far as termination and when do we have least effect, you know, from seedling diseases. And then trying to balance that with, you know, making sure that we're getting enough biomass from that cover crop to reduce those nitrate losses to protect the soil. And so there a little bit of balancing going on there. Especially on the soybean side because there's a lot of evidence, you know, that we can terminate, you know, an overwintering cover crop after soybeans are planted. The challenge there is that there's a lot more risk involved in it. There's a lot more nuance or finesse with how do we plant into that much residue. What happens if we get too much rain or not enough rain? And so there's a little bit of risk when we went to that. And so that's kind of where that the consensus came to the three to seven days ahead of soybean planting, you know, or that 12 inch height. As far as how to terminates, you know, we, most of this was focused, you know, on the corn side of it, that tends to be a little bit trickier. What we decided was I'm still recommending a full rate of glyphosates. And then because glyphosate works better when we have actively growing crops or actively growing plants that are taking it up, we said that that cover crop you know, it should be green and growing. And then we're looking for daytime temperatures that are above 60 degrees and nighttime temperatures that are above 40 degrees. Again, with the intent that we want that overwintering cover crop to be actively growing. So that way the glyphosate is translocated through it and we get an ineffective kill of the cover crop.

Zach Bader: So after farmers terminate their cover crops in the spring, is there anything in this manual that describes to them what they might need to do differently when it comes to planting or managing their cash crop moving forward? Is there anything like that in here?

Dr. Mark Licht: Yeah, the manual does get into a little bit of that and so it talks a little bit about, you know, how we should be changing some of the fertility or do we need to be changing some of the fertility and basically the main point there is probably we're moving that nitrogen application ahead of corn. You know, we're moving that from either a fall or spring application to either at planting or right before or after planting type timeframe. Again, the intent there is not necessarily wanting to feed the cover crop, additional nitrogen. Save that nitrogen application for when that corn crop is going to be able to take it up and use it. As far as, you know, planting itself, I would say that we're making really the same recommendation that we'd make if you were switching to no-till or if you were, you know, using your regular tillage conservation plans, you know, those types of things in making sure that you've got the planter settings adjusted for the environment that you're in. In this situation we would say don't do any tillage after that cover crop. You start to negate the benefits that you had from using the cover crop. But keep in mind that that planter now is going through more residue. It's into a note sill environment. And so we need to make the adjustments on the downforce. We need to make the adjustments to make sure we're getting the proper seed depth, making sure that the closing wheels are properly closing that seed furrow. And so that's probably the biggest thing in my mind is, you know, when we see cover crops, you know, after they've been terminated and planting into them, some of the challenges that we have is just making sure that that planning operation is done correctly and that's really quite important for that corn crop and also for the soybean crop.

Zach Bader: Okay. So looking ahead to the fall, obviously looking ahead quite a ways to the fall, what kind of recommendations does this manual have when it comes to how to seed a cover crop in the fall and how did you arrive at those conclusions?

Dr. Mark Licht: A lot of different ways of seeding, you know, whether it's aerial, whether it's using a high clearance broadcast type applicator or whether waiting until after the crop has been harvested and drilling. To some extent you know, the recommendations that we're making, we're really looking at and focused on likely using cereal rye after corn, but ahead of soybeans and then likely using oats after soybeans before corn, you know, and, and part of that was, those are pretty easy entry points. It helps us make that spring termination a little bit easier. But we do recognize that some, some farmers will use cereal rye after soybeans and head of corn too. So, you know, then we look at it and we say, okay, so when is the best timing, when do we get the best success with that seeding? And unfortunately a lot of this depends on the timing and the weather that we have at that seeding time. So, you know, we know that as far as the best seed to soil contact we get would be with drilling it after the corn and soybeans have been harvested. The downside is that we're probably going to get the least amount of biomass growth with that type of drill, seeding timing. At the same point, we know that we can get a lot of growth if we can, you know, either broadcast over-seed or aerial over-seed. Typically the last week of August, first week of September, now this practice would take and depend on, you know, what is the soil moisture and what is rainfall. Ideally we'd want to have a little bit of rainfall after we do that broadcast seeding into the standing corner, the standing soybean crop. So that way we would get germination and growth started right away. The false seeding is really, you know, dependent upon, you know, what weather conditions and what timing we're working with. And we recognize that there can be some tradeoffs there. The other thing is, is you notice, I did talk a little bit about species in that we're really talking small grains. So cereal rye and oats is what I was mentioning. We've shied away from talking about legumes and brassicas. So the, the radishes and turnips in the brassica category. And we did that partly because the legumes and brassicas, we have a little bit harder time getting established and getting good growth on following in with a corn, soybean system. And so best success is typically been using a small grain and the small grains tend to be a little bit cheaper to use than the legumes or the brassicas. And so, you know, for a beginner we're saying use those small grains or they're going to be a little bit more successful, a little bit cheaper, a little bit more reliable.

Zach Bader: You know, one of the nice things that you mentioned about this manual earlier on is that it's not just set up for one situation. Right? You had mentioned that there are different decision trees in here, so I can kind of choose my own adventure, right? If I'm coming off of soybeans, the specific of recommendations is going to be different than if I'm coming off a corn. It's good. And you talk a little bit about those and how you would drill down in a specific instance what farmers have accessible to them to be able to make those situations specific decisions.

Dr. Mark Licht: This is kind of the hard part because we know that every farm operation is different, right? And we know that everyone's gonna have a different risk tolerance level and they have different equipment and all that. And so we wanted to make sure that as we were developing this, we made it as versatile as we could. That's why, you know, when we think about these decision trees you know, we're talking about what is your comfort level? Do you want to deal with spring termination you know, ahead of corn or do you or not? And you know, then we start talking about the, even as far as the seating, you know, is aerial seeding or broadcast seeding an option, you know, so it kind of bounces you around a little bit to, to help you arrive at a decision that you're comfortable with, you know, as a grower but then still provides the, the information on, you know, what should the seeding rate be for that scenario. And yeah, these are pretty basic. But again, we thought that that was pretty important to make sure that one, we had a set of recommendations that, you know, a new adopter could be very successful with, but then you can go back into the text of the manual to figure out, you know, how do I want to fine tune that a little bit more? And so it does allow for a lot of flexibility.

Zach Bader: So this is a manual that's got about 60 pages in it. Part of that's on cover crops, part of it's on other conservation practices. What else stands out to you in this manual that you think farmers are going to find particularly new or enlightening when it comes to different conservation practices?

Dr. Mark Licht: One of those things is I believe right up toward the front of it and it's simply a chart that we, we've turned conservation practices at a glance. And so it has a whole host of, of practices, some of which we don't necessarily address in this manual, but it has a whole host of practices. And it talks about, you know, do these practices address soil health, do they address nutrient loss reduction or do they address habitat? And the way we've set this up is you kind of see the impact that we think that these practices have and then the type of confidence that we have in kind of that assessment of the impact. And so, you know, an example of that is with cover crops, we think that they have a high impact on soil health and nitrogen and phosphorous loss reductions. And we have high confidence in that largely because of the large body of research that's been going on in that area. But then as far as, you know the value of cover crops for habitat, you know, we say that it probably has a low impact, but you know, our confidence is, you know, only two out of three. Just because we don't have as much research on it, we haven't been able to really assess that. And so it kind of looks back, you know, and says out of these whole, all of these practices, you know, helps the, I would say helps the farmer helps everyone kind of look at, you know, what practices are available and will those practices address the resource concern that the individual has, whether it be nutrient loss reduction, whether it be soil health or whether it be habitat. And so that's a nice little feature that helps cut through, you know, where, where should some of these practices be used and how are they going to help us?

Delaney Howell: It's nice when the experts can get together and make your life a little easier right? Remember, you can find the Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices manual in the ISU extension store or click on it in the notes for this podcast episode. Well, we've arrived at our final interview for this episode of The Spokesman Speaks and we've saved this one for last because we really want the message of farm safety to stick with you as you embark on the 2020 growing season. It sounds like common sense, but as you'll hear from Iowa State's Dr. Chuck Schwab, being mindful of your safety is truly more important now than ever before. Spokesman Editor Dirck Steimel has the story.

Dirck Steimel: Chuck, we are in an unprecedented time because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Are there extra steps that farmers need to take to keep themselves and their employees safe during this crisis?

Dr. Chuck Schwab: Without question. I know we're in a challenging period of our history and it's important to keep informed because our understanding and this is evolving as experts discovered some facts and recommendations change as we know more and the current standard practices apply to farmers and deserve some additional sharing. You know, it's cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Some of these things are easy to be said, harder to do at times. Stay away from others when you're sick. Keep physical distance from others. And we've added the new is wearing face coverings. It's also important to stress how your safety is more important now than it ever has been. The pandemic is straining our medical community and first responders like never before. So it's our part to do a avoiding preventable farm work injuries and by avoiding those it will reduce the stress on the already overloaded medical community.

Dirck Steimel: Are there areas of the farm such as livestock pens and barns that farmers need to be especially careful around as they maintain social distancing during this period?

Dr. Chuck Schwab: Yeah, there's some areas where maintaining that recommended physical distance between people may be difficult. It's hard to say specifically for each operation, but the best thing to do is communicate your plan for those difficult areas before working so everyone is on the same page. And again, part of that is to figure out a process or a routine of how you approach it, how you interact in those tight spaces. Don't forget that sharing tools or operator stations of equipment can also be the source of spreading. And so we're struggling today with cleaning of these areas and I know that there's shortages of disinfectants that are going around and so part of it might be trying to limit the number of people that are interacting with different tools or pieces of equipment.

Dirck Steimel: Children are not in school this spring because of the virus. Does that add any safety concerns on the farm?

Dr. Chuck Schwab: Well, yes. Children have a potential for greater exposure risk because they're not in the school. Instead, they're spending that time in an environment deemed hazardous to youth by the U.S. Department of Labor. Let me, I guess share a few examples. The very young and more mobile children are curious and they often don't understand all the dangers like adults do. Therefore it's important to keep a more watchful eye on them so they don't become a tractor or equipment run over victim. They can rush out to greet a parent who's driving up to the farmstead or they may be a hidden individual behind so many of the tractor operators blind spots. Of course another danger is becoming that extra rider on tractor equipment. No seat, no rider is the best policy to keep everyone safe. Those extra riders are also a distraction to the operator creating even more potential for injury.

Dirck Steimel: What are the key steps that farmers should take to make sure they stay safe at planting?

Dr. Chuck Schwab: Well, we start out, the beginning is get your equipment in the top condition before planting, making sure that everything is operating correctly. Make sure that you follow all the safety precautions for adjusting, transporting and using that equipment. Just because there are recommendations for physical distancing. Those working alone in the field should still receive a scheduled wellbeing checks. It's just as important for them to check up on them, even though you know, we're trying to remain that physical distancing and it's also very important to take those physical breaks to stretch your legs, break away from the routine of the planting, disking, plowing, whatever you're doing, nourish and hydrate your body and when your body is the best, you tend to be safer.

Dirck Steimel: One more thing, Chuck. There's a lot of grain stored in farms these days. Why is it so important to be safe around grain bins?

Dr. Chuck Schwab: I think it's very important because the quality of grain currently in storage has some questionable concerns from us because a lot of grain was placed in storage too wet and we know that poor quality grain in storage leads to documented higher rates of grain suffocation. So I think it's important if you're experiencing any difficulties in removing grain from the band because it's clogged, gone up to one side and molded or anything from spoilage, it's necessary to change your perspective. You should move from trying to get the grain out of the bin to a philosophy of keeping everyone safe. That shift in your priorities could be the difference that could save your or something one's life.

Delaney Howell: I encourage all of you to take a few plays out of Dr. Schwab's playbook there and stay safe out there this planting season. Your friends loved ones and the entire medical community are counting on it. Well that's it for another episode of The Spokesman Speaks. I'm Delaney Howell and if you've enjoyed this episode, I hope you'll hit subscribe and join us for our next episode on May 4th. Until then, I hope that you stay safe, protect your loved ones, give back to your local communities and find new ways of responding to the challenge of feeding our neighbors in Iowa and around the globe. Thanks for reading The Spokesman and thanks for tuning in to The Spokesman Speaks.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from The Spokesman at IowaFarmBureau.com/Spokesman. You can also find and subscribe to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast in the Apple Podcasts app, Google Play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at Podcast@ifbf.org.

About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast

Since 1934,  The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can  find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or Radio.com.

We release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 38 will be released on May 4, 2020.



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