By: Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer
Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Environmental Programs and Services (EPS) team members Heath Ellison and Theo Gunther, along with Producer Services Regional Coordinator Carrie Kelly, introduced farmers to IACAN at the 2014 Western Iowa No-Till Field Day near Shelby on June 17.
The trio explained and handed out information about the project, and collected contact information for future farm visits.
The network is a private sector initiative to demonstrate technology-based conservation practice planning to accelerate implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. IACAN is a partnership of ISA, Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) and the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors Association (LICA).
Since the network’s inception in January, about 50 farmers have utilized the free service to improve existing conservation practices or build new ones, like grass waterways and wetlands.
The field day began the summer push to sign up new participants in five priority watersheds: East and West Nishnabotna, Middle Cedar, Floyd and Turkey. About 150 people attended the field day, and about half stopped by the ISA table, Kelly said.
Many of the growers, who farm in the East and West Nishnabotna watersheds, were interested in the program.
“Farmers are receptive. They like the fact we are able to provide field assessments quickly and give cost estimates,” said Gunther, EPS resource management specialist. “It provides a unique perspective on land they see every day.”
Gunther, Ellison and EPS Watershed Resource Specialist Allison Vincent are trained on the IACAN software and perform on-farm assessments. LICA contractors in each watershed will use the same technology to provide conservation planning as well. Visits typically take about an hour.
Network participants get planning assistance for grass waterways, ponds, wetlands and sediment basins. Farmers also receive soil loss assessments. A map and cost estimates with multiple options for each conservation practice are provided.
Dennis Wahling, who farms near Shelby, was one of the first to stop by the ISA table and plans on participating in IACAN.
The staunch conservationist has been no-till farming for 20 years. He also has grass waterways, terraces and a couple of farm ponds to prevent erosion.
But that doesn’t mean Wahling is satisfied. The ponds are silted in, steam degradation is prevalent and some waterways could be widened and cleaned out in areas to accommodate heavier rain events, he said.
“If there’s a better way to make it work, I’m interested,” added Wahling, who farms 1,100 acres. “We have to do everything we can to prevent soil loss. You have to be good stewards.”
Ellison said IACAN is unique. Farmers can find out what conservation practices are needed and cost estimates before going to the local Natural Resources Conservation Service office for assistance and applying for cost-share dollars.
Several hours of assessing fields on foot is no longer required, Ellison said. Assessments can be done at the kitchen table. IACAN software uses aerial imagery and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data to determine and design conservation practices and estimate cost.
“We’re approaching conservation planning another way. It saves farmers time and they can find out what practices are feasible in different locations,” Ellison said.
ISA member Ed Rueschenberg farms with his parents near Westphalia. He’s interested in IACAN to provide insight on how to reshape and widen an existing grass waterway that’s shared with a neighbor and figure out how much it will cost. And see if any other conservation practices are needed.
The waterway use to do its job funneling excess water without causing gullies. That’s no longer happening in some areas due to heavier rain events, he said. “We’ll have this done on the computer and figure it out,” he said.
Always looking to improve water and soil management, Declan Gross of rural Earling will likely participate in IACAN to redo a silted in farm pond and explore other conservation measures.
He also has terraces and grass waterways throughout his soybean, corn and alfalfa acres.
“I like what ISA (and the other organizations) are doing,” Gross said. “I would like to see what other practices I could improve.”
Prior to Tuesday’s event, IACAN officials held two meetings in each watershed to promote the program and sign up participants.
To set up an appointment with an IACAN expert, call (855) 376-6815 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
. The service is a benefit to ISA and ICGA members, but is open to all farmers.