This year’s Earth Day has come and gone. The celebrations, the speeches, the tree plantings and the trash pickups are all over and now most of us in Iowa and around the country have moved on to other spring events, like Mother’s Day and graduations.

But not everybody. On Earth Day, and on every other day of the year, Iowa farmers are voluntarily taking steps to improve the state’s environment. They plant buffer strips to keep streams running clean and clear. They seed grass waterways in fields to stop soil erosion. And they use high-tech testing to determine optimum fertilizer applications, so crops utilize all of the nutrients instead of allowing them to run into streams.

It’s paying off. In his annual update on Iowa’s environment, Department of Natural Resources director Richard Leopold noted that Iowa’s water quality has steadily improved over the past three years thanks, in part, to efforts by farmers and others. There is still room to improve, but Leopold noted that “we are seeing an upward tick.” He also noted that lakes in Iowa are clearer than they have been in several years and that fishing in Iowa has never been better.

There are many examples of farmers working every day to improve the environment in their communities. One is the Hewitt Creek watershed, which is in northeast Iowa and encompasses the famous Field of Dreams near Dyersville. After tests showed problems a few years ago, farmers there, with help from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and state programs, voluntarily implemented a series of practices to improve water quality.

The process takes time, but testing has shown significant progress since the Hewitt Creek project was launched. The data shows annual sediment delivery into the watershed’s creeks dropped by more than 4,000 tons and phosphorus delivery declined more than 5,000 pounds per year. That has fostered growth in the populations of macro invertebrates, which are the building blocks for fish and wildlife.

All of the statistical evidence is great. Maybe even better are the signs of a healthier watershed that go beyond the charts and graphs.

A week or so ago, John Rahe noticed a majestic eagle perched on the banks of a creek near his farm. A visit by an eagle at this time of year in the Hewitt Creek area, shows that fish—good-sized fish—are swimming in the creek and indicates that water quality has improved, Rahe figures. “I’ve seen eagles there before, but usually they are gone by this time of year,” he said. “There must be fish in the creek to keep the eagles here.”

Rahe knows that cleaner water is better. And, like a whole lot of Iowa farmers, he’s doing something every day of the year to make that a reality.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.