Meeting the conservation challenge
In my years of observing Iowa agriculture, I’ve learned to never underestimate farmers’ drive and resourcefulness to accomplish their goals. They always get the job done, whether that means overcoming tough weather or implementing the latest agronomic technology.
Farmers are now taking on the challenge of improving Iowa’s water quality, and more specifically reducing losses of nitrogen from farm fields into streams, rivers and lakes. With help from government agencies, ag retailers, Iowa State University (ISU) and others, it’s a safe bet they will meet this challenge. Surveys of farmers and ag retailers show there have been significant gains in the acres planted with cover crops, in the number of wetlands installed and in the construction of other conservation structures scientifically proven to reduce nitrogen losses.
We can anticipate progress on nitrogen because of Iowa farmers’ track record in reducing losses of phosphorus. Over the past few decades, innovations such as no-till and buffer strips have helped cut phosphorus losses from Iowa farm fields by 22%, as compared to the baseline from 1980 through 1996, research shows.
The pivot to reducing nitrogen losses will require farmers to adapt new conservation strategies and technologies, according to water quality experts who spoke during a water quality workshop at the IFBF annual meeting. It will also require dedication and commitment, they said.
Yet, like the experts, I have no doubt that Iowa farmers are up to the task.
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