Thousands of cycling enthusiasts from around the world travel to central Iowa to ride the scenic High Trestle Trail, which runs through 25-plus miles of farm country.
Now as they roll past cornfields, cattle pastures and creeks, bicyclists can learn more about the conservation practices used by farmers along the trail.
The Iowa Farm Bureau has placed two new signs explaining the conservation practices that bicyclists can see as they ride on the central Iowa trail. More conservation signs are planned for the trail in the coming months.
The easy-to-see signs, located on the trail between Ankeny and Sheldahl, encourage cyclists to slow their roll and check out the examples of terraces, buffer strips, no-till and contour farming. These conservation practices help protect the soil and water. They represent a few of the many ways that farmers are taking on the challenge of improving water quality.
Going on a long time
“Farmers have been doing a lot of (conservation) things for years. It isn’t just the last five years or 10 years. We have terraces on our farm that are from the ‘70s. But the technology the last few years has really advanced efforts,” says Steve Lee, a Polk County Farm Bureau member who welcomed the new conservation sign on his farm along the High Trestle Trail northwest of Ankeny.
Kenny Lund, a Polk County Farm Bureau member, said he always thought it would be a good idea to put conservation signs along the trail.
Hundreds of cyclists pass by his farm south of Sheldahl every day, perhaps without knowing about all the conservation practices he uses in plain sight.
“We’ve been doing this for years. My grandparents put some of these conservation structures in,” Lund says.
Lund, who farms with his wife and son, grows corn and soybeans in the Big Creek watershed. His family built their first terraces in the early 1970s. The terraces help slow the flow of rainwater to help prevent soil erosion.
The Lunds also installed 120-foot-wide grass buffer strips to help catch the soil and filter nitrates before they reach the waterways.
The new conservation sign on the Lunds’ farm showcases the terraces and buffer strips.
“It’s a good idea maybe to blow our horn a little bit to show that we do care for the soil, we do care for the water. And hopefully, people will stop to ask questions,” says Lund, who is also a cyclist and joins friends on the trail for a weekly ride.
Too many practices for sign
The conservation sign on Lee’s farm near Ankeny highlights his use of no-till and contour farming to protect soil and water quality.
Lee, who farms with his son and daughter, grows corn and soybeans and also raises sheep and cattle.
“I wish there was more room on the sign, because there is a lot more that we do,” Lee says with a laugh.
In addition to no-till farming, Lee also uses terraces, nitrogen stabilizers and precision ag technology to prevent soil erosion and benefit water quality.
“With GPS and precision ag, we can apply fertilizer exactly where it’s needed so we don’t overapply,” Lee says.
Both Lee and Lund say that farmers use a variety of conservation practices, because farms across Iowa differ in soil type and the ever-changing Iowa weather.
“I farm both sides of the trail, and what works on this side of the trail won’t work on the other side,” Lund says.
Indeed, the challenge is bigger than just farmers. Everyone — including cyclists and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts — has a role to play in cleaning up our water quality. When we all work together, we can make big strides.
“I would like to do what I can better. It was instilled in me that we have to leave the farm in better condition than when we started,” Lee says.
For more information about the conservation practices used by Iowa farmers, visit www.conservationcountsiowa.com.