The Third [Business] Day of Christmas: Breakouts: Strategies for Social Engagement

On the third [business] day of Christmas, the Iowa Water Center gave to me…descriptions for the breakout session Strategies for Social Engagement.

The following presentations will take place at the Iowa Water Conference in Ames on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Registration for the conference will open in January.

1000s of Acres: Adding Conservation Partners
Angie Carter, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Welfare at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL & Jean Eells, E Resources Group

Women farmland owners are an important part of watershed level conservation changes in Iowa. Learn from researchers and landowners about how PhotoVoice, a participatory research method, is being used in the Raccoon River watershed to engage this important demographic.

Water in Iowa: Voicing the Lexicon
Chad Žmolek, Mike Todd, Joe Brekke and Ames High School Bluestem Institute students

Students from the Bluestem Institute at Ames High School share insights gained from their journey across Iowa examining water quality issues in collaboration with Project Localize, an educational program that helps classrooms identify and promote sustainable economic, cultural and social progress in their communities. As part of the project, students created unique posters shining light on terms related to water quality. Following the presentation, the students will be available during the conference break to answer questions about their posters, which will be on display in the second floor lobby area.

Iowa farmers’ perspectives on actions toward nutrient reduction strategy goals
J. Gordon Arbuckle, Jr., Associate Professor/Extension Sociologist, Department of Sociology, Iowa State University

In spring 2014, 1,128 Iowa farmers were surveyed to measure their knowledge of the strategy, their attitudes and concerns toward it and its goals, and, importantly, their willingness to take action to help meet those goals. A regression analysis was conducted to evaluate factors that influence farmers’ willingness to take steps to support the strategy. The results of this analysis will be shared.

retaiN Iowa: Engaging Farmers in On-farm Nitrogen Testing
Jamie Benning, Water Quality Program Manager, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach & Clare Lindahl, Executive Director, Conservation Districts of Iowa

retaiN seeks to give farmers the tools and information they need to make the best conservation decisions on their land, starting by helping farmers test for, understand and take steps to retain their nitrogen. The retaiN project developed nitrate testing kits that facilitate farmer engagement in collecting on-farm nitrate concentration data.  The retaiN kits were initially distributed in the summer and fall of 2015 through existing watershed projects and ISU Extension field specialists.  retaiN is a collaboration between Conservation Districts of Iowa and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Iowa Learning Farms with support from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality.

PRACTICES: A tale of grassed waterways

Guest post by John Gilbert of Gibralter Farms, an Iowa Century Farm raising dairy, pigs and crops in the South Fork [Iowa River] Watershed in Hardin County.

The folks of Gehrke Construction, Eldora, and the Hardin County office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently finished shaping  what is now Gibralter Farms’ longest waterway.

About 1900 feet in length (three-eighth of a mile), the channel is designed to safely move water that runs off the surface of about 80 acres down 40 feet in elevation to where it can spread out in grass pastures before entering The Southfork, a tributary of the Iowa River.  (The channel will be seeded to sod-forming grass in the spring;  cross-channel fabric checks protect it until then.)  Part of the route has been a waterway for a long time, but recent years of heavier rains have re-enforced the need to control the water all the way across our crop fields.

This is the fourth waterway across this farm moving surface water from the uplands to the north to grass and wetland areas buffering The Southfork, all rebuilt since 2008.  Public money has helped cover half the cost on all but one reconstruction, and could be slightly more than $4,500 on this project.

In addition to the cash assistance, NRCS personnel provided engineering design and layout at no additional cost.  Even after spending 14 years as a commissioner for the Hardin County Soil and Water Conservation District, I’m challenged to explain just what the public gets for their investment in projects like ours.  Obviously, it facilitates getting it done, as it would be harder to budget the whole cost into any year’s expenses, but could be covered by cutting back on other improvements.  Cost share projects are designed to help keep soil from washing, and to protect water quality, and this project will have some benefit for both.

In the final analysis, the benefit is really more one of the public having some involvement in protecting the land, which really is a commonly held resource…one on which we all rely.  Recent trends in farming — with fewer owner-operators and more ownership physically and generationally removed from the land — have eroded (pun intended) the understanding that good soil stewardship is a responsibility that goes with the privilege of using the land.

Farms are not like Vegas; what happens here doesn’t stay here.  What we do as farmers affects us all.  That’s why we’re glad to get this project done.

Most people might not see bulldozed dirt as art, but a well shaped waterway is a thing of beauty.  One more thing to be thankful for.