Morris and Arbuckle’s Twitter Takeover

On April 7, Chris Morris and J. Arbuckle took over the Iowa Water Center’s Twitter account with another edition of our #TwitterTakeover series. Morris and Arbuckle delve into a discussion on their research process behind farmer adoption of conservation practices, as well as the transition to working from home due to COVID-19.

Morris is a graduate student in the Sustainable Agriculture program at Iowa State University. Arbuckle is a rural sociologist with emphasis on social dimensions of soil and water conservation. Arbuckle is the director of the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll and administers an annual farmer survey. He also is the Chair of the Sustainable Agriculture Graduate Program at Iowa State University.

Morris’s first research project that he conducted revolved around analyzing the 2016 Iowa Farm Poll to study the connection between a farmer having a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation plan and their application of the nine recommended conservation practices by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

His initial prediction of what the data would show was that applying the NRCS conservation plan would lead to the adoption of all nine recommended conservation practices. Their research did not show this, as a surprise to Morris. The research analysis concluded that having the conservation plan only predicted applying two of the nine conservation practices. This data also showed that the more frequent a farmer visits their local United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) service center, the more likely they will adopt conservation practices. The overall outcome that they found from this research was that farmer interaction with conservation specialists was the most consistent predictor of practice application.

The current project that Morris is working on is centered around targeted conservation, referring to science-based techniques to pin-point areas on land that are the most vulnerable to soil erosion and water quality issues.

Morris explains that targeted conservation is seen as a way to improve agriculture impacts in a watershed more efficiently, as opposed to just using “random acts of conservation.” Farmers are contacted by personnel and presented with the information, as well as offered technical assistance if needed. Targeted conservation is starting to be adopted by state and federal conservation agencies, and even private consultants, but its feasibility and success relies on the acceptance of the farmer.

Morris and Arbuckle analyzed data from the 2009 and 2014 Iowa Farm Polls to see if farmers’ relationships and attitudes about targeted conservation have changed over time. Their research found that even though the approval of targeting has slightly decreased in those five years, the majority of farmers still approve of targeted conservation.

The duo also examined in-depth interviews and focus groups to add to their survey analysis. Overall, they found that even though most farmers supported the idea, some farmers had concerns about being targeted, the use of the data and the need for cost share programs. Here are some snippets from the interviews that Morris shared on Twitter:

To end this #TwitterTakeover, Arbuckle and Morris shared the struggles that have come along with adapting to remote work. This is a quick glimpse into their working-from-home life:

You can follow Chris’s personal Twitter account, @JChrisMorris81, J’s personal Twitter account, @Jfullstop, their ongoing project’s account, @ISU_CCHANGE, and of course, the Iowa Water Center account @IowaWaterCenter to see the Twitter takeovers in live action.

Establishing a Culture of Conservation with Prairie STRIPS

Written by Hanna Bates, Program Coordinator for the Iowa Water Center

Across the Midwest, farm fields are patterned with commodity crops, including corn and soybeans. Although supportive of our global economy, this agricultural system is a leaky one with shallow roots systems in the field that leaches nutrients and depletes the soil. In Iowa’s history, landscapes were previously protected in a blanket of prairie that would build deep roots and replenish the soil. Commodity production and conservation are not necessarily mutually exclusive choices, but an integrative system that farmers can establish on their farms.

Prairie STRIPS is a process in which farmers plant approximately 10% of prairie on the contour while growing their regular rotation in the rest of the field. Over the last 8 months, I have been working with a farmer in Hardin County to establish STRIPS on his 128-acre farm field. Planning STRIPS is an iterative process between the conservation planner and the farmer so that it fits his/her needs. In what I have learned in putting in prairie STRIPS, there is nothing cookie-cutter about the process. Rather, it is one that requires visits to the field and detailed conversations so that the farmer can reach the goals s/he sets for the land.

Visiting the field

Before we can start putting a plan on paper, it is important to go out and walk the field with the farmer to see what the topography is like and how the drainage flows through the field. In walking through this field, I saw that the farmer had grassed waterways already established. Despite having a few practices like this in place already, there were a few spots in the field that were experiencing a wash out every growing season and were financial losses. These happen to be primary spots where Prairie STRIPS could be placed. When this was noted to the farmer, he was excited for the possibilities of how his field could perform in yields by saving these spots and preventing problems, such as soil deposits and increased drainage velocity for the areas below the washout spots in his field.

Making the plan

After visiting the field, the next step is to work in ArcMap to sketch out where the potential STRIPS can be placed. Using a series of maps and knowing the future rotations plans in the field aids in this decision-making process. These aren’t necessarily viewed as limitations, but rather as narrowing the scope and providing direction to planning in ArcMap. We started with integrating the contoured STRIPS with the grassed waterways as well as adding blocked STRIPS at the south end of the field. We presented the plan to the farmer and the few edits we had to make to the plan were to square off where the Prairie STRIPS meet the grassed waterways for ease of mobility for his equipment. All strips were placed at intervals that are divisible by 30-feet to accommodate equipment and create uniform farming lanes. Prairie species included in the STRIPS is a mix of grasses and forbs (see Table 1 below). Maintenance will require routine mowing.

Identifying future needs

The Prairie STRIPS are currently in the first year of growth as they were planted in late Spring 2018. The first several years require some maintenance with mowing, but as the species grow and mature over time, they will require less maintenance. As these plants mature, they will provide a wildlife habitat and serve as a corridor for migrating birds. The STRIPS will provide ecosystem benefits as well as serve the community up in Hardin County by being a model for conservation and set an example for others in respect to what good farming is.

In Summer 2019, we will hold a Prairie STRIPS field day on the farm. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to receive the details!

Table 1. Prairie STRIPS Prairie Species
Grasses Forbs
Big Bluestem Anise Hyssop
Sideoats Grama Common Milkweed
Prairie Brome Smooth Blue Aster
Canada Wild Rye New England Aster
Switchgrass Canada Milk Vetch
Little Bluestem White Wild Indigo
Indiangrass Partridge Pea
Prairie Dropseed Tall Coreopsis
White Prairie Clover
Purple Prairie Clover
Showy Tick Trefoil
Purple Coneflower
Rattlesnake Master
Ox-eye Sunflower
Meadow Blazingstar
Prairie Blazingstar
Wild Bergamot
Wild Quinine
Foxglove Beardtongue
Yellow Coneflower
Black-eyed Susan
Compass Plant
Stiff Goldenrod
Purple Meadow Rue
Blue Vervain
Culver’s Root
Golden Alexanders

Reviewed by the STRIPS science team at Iowa State University for science/economic content related to prairie strips on September, 7, 2018.