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Iowa Corn Growers Association
ICGA hosts Governor and Lt. Governor to Support Nutrient Reduction page banner

ICGA hosts Governor and Lt. Governor to Support Nutrient Reduction

Posted on May 16, 2013 at 8:53 AM by Iowa Corn

On Tuesday, the Iowa Corn Growers Association partnered with the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors Association (LICA) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to host a conservation demonstration field day.  The goal was to inform the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and legislators about conservation practices that farmers use.  The event was held at LICA’s demonstration farm near Melbourne.

Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds
get a close view of a bioreactor’s water
control structure.
Over 60 people attended the event, which focused on nutrient reduction practices like bioreactors and denitrifying wetlands.  Educational displays were available inside the machine shed, and tours of the farm were given so participants could see the conservation practices up close.

“It’s important that we all work together on the nutrient reduction strategy,” said Governor Branstad.  The State of Iowa is currently finishing work on a nutrient reduction strategy to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in water bodies by 45 percent.  Farmers will be asked to voluntarily implement conservation practices that reduce the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus on their farms.

A recent Des Moines Register story, “Record Nitrate Levels in Raccoon, Des Moines Threaten Des Moines-area Tap Water” talked about nitrogen levels in water bodies.  Record temperatures have caused record nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers.  Last year’s drought limited plant growth and nitrogen utilization, and unused nitrogen was flushed from the system by April’s record rainfall.

This temporary spike in nitrates supports the need for aggressive implementation of the nutrient reduction strategy.  Patience is needed because the lag time to see water quality improvements from conservation practices can be decades.

Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said, “Voluntary measures are the best bet for action because they avoid one size fits all solutions.”  With over 90,000 farms in Iowa, there is not any easy solution, especially as demand for Iowa’s agricultural products increase.

Nitrogen fertilizer application is necessary to replace nitrogen removed via grain harvest.  If fertilizer application is inadequate, plants will strip nutrients from the soil reducing future productivity.  America’s farmers have greatly improved nitrogen efficiency, which decreases the amount of nitrogen required to harvest a bushel of corn.  From 1980 to 2010, corn production increased from 6.6 billion bushels to 12.45 billion bushels while nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) per bushel decreased from 3.9 pounds to 1.6 pounds per bushel.  This is an 87.5 percent increase in production using 4 percent fewer nutrients (USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service).

The LICA farm’s wetland removes nitrogen as 
water flows through it.
The unprecedented science assessment that was conducted as part of the nutrient reduction strategy has received great praise from the Environmental Protection Agency and others.  The assessment has shown that 45 percent reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus are possible by implementing a wide range of practices.  Many of these practices involve newer technology like bioreactors and denitrifying wetlands that have only recently been included in our voluntary conservation programs.  New technology will be an important part of reaching the strategies goals and farmers will embrace this technology.

Ben Gleason is the Sustainable Program Manager at Iowa Corn where he works on a range of environmental projects affecting Iowa corn growers.  Soil and water conservation issues are a priority, and Ben works closely with government agencies and other organizations to address these issues.  Previously, Ben worked for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship as a project coordinator for multiple watershed projects addressing sediment and nutrients in lakes and streams.  Ben grew up in Charles City, IA near his family’s farm on the Little Cedar River.  He resides in Ankeny and his hobbies include hunting, fishing, boating and attending Iowa State athletic events.

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