Iowa farmers are installing many conservation practices to protect water quality.I’ve been around Iowa agriculture a long time, but last week was a first for me: I visited a field where a farmer was having a saturated buffer and a bioreactor installed side-by-side. It was pretty cool to see all of that water quality improvement action in one spot. But it might not be the last time dual installation happens around the state, given the way that farmers all over Iowa are tackling the challenge of improving water quality.

The farmer I visited, Kurt Lehman in Polk County, is just one of many installing bioreactors and saturated buffers. Research by ISU and USDA has shown that both of these structures are especially good at removing nitrates, much of which is naturally-occurring in Iowa’s rich soils.

It’s a good bet we’ll see farmers install more of them in the future.

In a few weeks, farmers will begin deploying airplanes and ground rigs to plant cover crops. It’s a practice that was very rare until a few years ago, but has been embraced by more and more Iowa farmers because the off-season crops significantly reduce the loss of nitrates and phosphorus from fields. That’s especially true during the vulnerable period for nitrogen loss in the early spring. Studies have also shown that cover crops help build soil health.

Other farmers are building wetlands, adopting conservation tillage and other practices to improve water quality and save soil.

There’s a wide range of practices to improve water quality because Iowa’s landscape is diverse. A water quality practice that works perfectly on one farm could be a dud on another.

Overall, it’s really an unprecedented effort by Iowa farmers and those who support the state’s agriculture, such as ag retailers, researchers at Iowa State University (ISU) and other entities, as well as state and federal agencies. And, as Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey noted recently, the sharp downturn in nearly all commodity prices in the past three years does not appear to have dampened Iowa farmers’ enthusiasm for implementing conservation and water quality practices.

Iowans can get a view of that effort starting this week will highlight farmers’ conservation and water quality efforts—as well as the role everyone in the state can play in improving water quality.

Visitors to Farm Bureau Park will get a first-hand look at how that collaboration is taking shape and making a real difference. They’ll also get a great look at the progress that farmers and others are making by using science-based strategies to improve water quality and save soil. It’s a great story, and Iowa Farm Bureau members can’t wait to share it with people from all over Iowa. So after you’ve had that first corn dog or funnel cake, be sure to stop by. 

See a full list of everything that's happening at Farm Bureau Park during the Iowa State Fair here