It takes a collaborative effort and local, state and federal partnerships to continue the progress that’s being made in conservation, stakeholders said last week in a discussion about collaboration and conservation.

The event was hosted by the Iowa Soybean Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The key to the collaborative efforts working to expand conservation efforts in the state is the partnerships working to do so, Iowa Secretary of Ag­­riculture Bill Northey noted.

“The challenge with collaboration as we all know is as you put different folks together, different groups together each with their own mission, with their own experience, each with their own priorities. The challenge is how do we blend those together where the sum of the parts is greater than the individual efforts.”

But farmers and other key stakeholders say those partnerships are furthering Iowa’s conservation efforts and they’re willing to continue their collaborative efforts.

Steve Bradbury, Iowa State Uni­­versity professor and the workgroup leader for the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, said just the makeup of the consortium reflects the diversity of organizations throughout the state that recognize their role in protecting the monarch butterfly and protecting habitat. The willingness of those players to learn about the problem and explore op­­portunities to come up with solutions has been productive, Bradbury said.

Dave Nelson, a farmer and co-owner of Brokaw Supply Company, a sprayer and fertilizer equipment dealership, says his role is not only in implementing conservation practices on the family’s farm, but helping landowners understand the importance of establishing those practices.

Informing landowners
He and his family publish a newsletter twice a year that allows  their landlords to see what the family is doing on their farms. 

Nelson said he likes connecting with the landowners and teaching them about the different practices happening on farms.

And the more landowners see some of the things happening on farms across the state today, the more willing and open they are to allow the Nelsons to try something similar on their farms, too.

Dave Coppess, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Heartland Co-op, says a key component in expanding the company’s conservation efforts has been recognizing educational opportunities.

The co-op adopted Land O’ Lakes’ Sustain platform, which is designed to optimize crop nutrients and environmental stewardship practices for crop production. Coppess said continuing to find and grow partnerships will be key in growing the state’s conservation efforts.

Working together

“Farmers years and years ago learned that they can’t do everything by themselves. They need to gather together and cooperate and collaborate with other organizations that can bring them resources and tools to help them improve their return on investment and serve the needs of the public,” Coppess said.

Dean Meyer, farmer and director on the Iowa Corn Growers Assoc­­iation (ICGA) board of directors, said that by using tech­­­­­nology and collaborating with partners like the U.S. De­­partment of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Soybean Association and the ICGA, he’s able to preserve the land for his sons and produce a better crop.

“It’s amazing how much less nitrogen we’re using today, and we’re producing a bigger crop today with less because we’re able to use the resources we have a lot more efficiently,” Meyer said.

Impressive gains

Northey said the number of farmers attending field days, signing up for cost-share dollars to implement cover crops and other conservation efforts on their farm, and the growing interest among farmers to try something different on their farm show there is great interest and optimism in the state.

“I couldn’t be more impressed with the kinds of things that are happening,” Northey said.

However, it’s going to take more funds to expand those efforts in the state, he said.

Northey said lawmakers are noticing and will likely add more funding to conservation efforts in the years to come.

“I’m very optimistic that we’ll find some more state resources this next session,” Northey said.