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Iowa farmers are stepping up to aid water quality

Conservation Field DayAnyone still not convinced Iowa farmers and others in agriculture are serious about stepping up to improve our state’s water quality and conserve topsoil should take a quick look at my email inbox. It’s crammed this summer with announcements and flyers for conservation field days and other events in every part of the state, most of them being hosted or run by farmers.

There’s a field day in northwest Iowa this week on interseeding cover crops into standing corn. There’s another in Linn County that will include a visit with a farmer who’s had conservation practices in place for three decades. The list goes on.

There were 637 conservation field days and other events last year, and they keep happening in 2015. I’m pretty sure that many more will fill my inbox right up until the harvest season. Attendance at the events, by all accounts, is outstanding. Last year more than 23,000 farmers attended the conservation events, and it’s been just as strong this year.

Farmers are kicking the tires, so to speak, on the practices that have proven to reduce nutrient loss, such as cover crops, bioreactors and saturated buffers. They are asking a lot of questions. And they are determining which of the conservation practices will work best on their farms (if they haven’t adopted them already).

Strong momentum

Veteran ag observers, such as Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, say the momentum to learn about and adopt conservation and water quality practices has never been stronger.

A recent Iowa State University (ISU) survey of farmers underscored that. The Iowa Farm and Rural Life poll by ISU found that 80 percent of the 1,100 farmers who responded to the survey said they are aware of state’s water quality initiative, officially called the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, and most support it. And, even more impressive, 72 percent of the farmers said they would like to improve the conservation practices on the land they farm.

These are exciting and challenging times for conservation and water quality improvement in Iowa. It really seems like we’re heading into a new era. And for those in the state who still contend that farmers aren’t yet serious about voluntarily stepping up to make a positive difference, maybe it’s time to get out of the office and see what’s happening out in the country.