Collaborations are sprouting up all across Iowa these days as farmers and others team up to reduce nutrient loss and improve the state’s water quality.
By working closely together, farmers, ag retailers, farm organizations, government agencies, universities and others are finding that they can direct far more expertise and resources to meet the state’s long-term conservation and water quality goals.
A good example: a new effort that recently launched in southwestern Iowa by Heartland Co-op, Pheasants Forever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and AgSolver, an Ames-based data technology company.
It’s designed to help farmers’ bottom line by maximizing the return on investment for every acre of their farm while also reducing nutrient loss from farm fields, stemming soil erosion and expanding wildlife habitat. Those acres can then be enrolled in the Conservation Reserve program (CRP) or other programs that are designed to boost conservation by installing wetlands, filter strips, grasslands or pollinator plots.
Everybody wins“The idea is to make conservation pay for the farmer and improve habitat. That way everybody wins,” said Jeremy Biggs, a precision ag specialist with Pheasants Forever, a national conservation organization dedicated to improving habitat for game birds.
In the southwest Iowa collaboration, Biggs shares an office at Heartland’s Neola location with Robert Casson, an agronomist for the co-op. Through meetings and other outreach, they are working to help area farmers make better decisions with the precision data they already have. Biggs and Casson use the AgSolver’s Profit Zone Manager program to determine which acres are not profitable to farm and may be better off enrolled in conservation programs.
The AgSolver program looks at a wide range of variables, such as soil quality, production history and input costs to determine if each acre is pulling its weight in profitability, said Chris Russmann, manager of Heartland’s western sales region.
“That’s something that’s hard to see without the analysis. For a lot of farmers, a light goes on when they see the numbers.”
Conservation programs are one of many tools that AgSolver’s Precision Business Planning process can deploy to help farmers better manage their input dollars.
“A Precision Business Plan identifies business performance from a 10-foot resolution within fields to a whole enterprise scale,” says David Muth, co-founder of AgSolver. “The plan then deploys agronomic technologies, land improvement concepts, precision ag management techniques and alternative business models like conservation practices often at a subfield scale to improve financial outcomes.”
Once unprofitable acres are identified and a farmer decides to participate, Biggs works with local NRCS offices to determine which conservation program best fits the land and works to get the acres enrolled.
“We act as a liaison for the farmer to bridge the gaps and find solutions that work for everybody,” Biggs said. “We’ve found that there are a lot farmers out there who want to get more involved in conservation programs but don’t really know how to get started at it, and they worry about the cost.”
As with CRP and other federally-operated conservation programs, a farmer still owns and controls access to the land after it is enrolled, Biggs emphasized. “We’ve gotten some questions on whether this becomes public access land, and that certainly is not the case,” he said.
The collaboration program, Russmann said, has the potential to create a win-win for farmers and the environment. “It can take a negative for a farmer and turn it into a positive,” he said.