Iowa farmers, as we’ve chronicled in the Spokesman, are taking on the challenge of improving the state’s water quality.

It’s good to know that farmers have a top-notch partner in their water quality efforts: Iowa State University’s (ISU) agricultural and biosystems engineering program.

Earlier this fall, the U.S. News & World Report 2017 ranking of the best college programs pegged the ISU agricultural and biosystems engineering undergraduate program as the nation’s best. It was tied at the top of the rankings with Purdue University and outdistanced well-known agricultural colleges such as the University of Illinois and Texas A&M.

Like a lot of success stories in the agricultural world, ISU’s agricultural and biosystems engineering program is a hybrid. The program is co-administered by the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and by the College of Engineering. The two colleges work together to find solutions to a wide range of challenges facing farmers and others involved in producing food, biofuel and other products.

"This department represents a critical interface of two of our colleges with national reputations for excellence, using their combined expertise to pursue leading-edge work that will help feed and fuel a rapidly growing global population," ISU President Steven Leath said. "Being recognized as the top program in the nation confirms Iowa State’s legacy of distinction in this field — and is a testimony to the passion and knowledge our experts bring to their work."

Deep roots in Iowa soils

The ISU program has a long and solid history. It was launched way back in 1905 with a mission to develop ways to mechanize farming. Over the decades, the program’s mission has expanded beyond simple mechanization to include a range of areas, including the vital work of helping Iowa farmers improve water quality.

Researchers in the ISU agricultural and biosystems engineering program have also been instrumental in developing and providing technical advice for Iowa’s Water Quality Initiative. The collaborative initiative, officially called the Iowa Nutrient Re­­­duction Strategy, is helping farmers research and adopt the water quality improvement practices that work best on their farms.

The country’s best farmers, working with the country’s best ag engineering program, is a combo that’s hard to beat.