Please consider a gift to the Cerro Gordo Soil and Water Conservation District. Your tax deductible donation will assist our Commissioners and staff in spreading the word about protecting our natural resources on private lands. Please send your gift to the Cerro Gordo SWCD at 1415 South Monroe Ave., Mason City, Iowa 50401.
The Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners thank the Globe Gazette for publishing our conservation articles on a routine basis. These articles are written by Dennis Carney, Cerro Gordo Soil and Water Conservation Commissioner.
Make a Change - April 2020
Recent events around our country and the world certainly cause many of our other endeavors to take on a new perspective. Concerns for our natural resources may seem less important as we worry more about our own safety and well-being. We all hope that in a few months we can get back to some sort of new normal with a greater respect for our fragile existence.
One of the greatest lessons in the pandemic is the realization of how much we can voluntarily alter our own lives in a very short time. Activities and habits that we were sure could never be altered have changed overnight. It gives those involved with natural resource protection and climate change activism hope that behaviors can change. It is hoped that changes can occur before we are presented with such dire consequences as the pandemic.
In our area, weather conditions last fall and possibly this spring have made it difficult for farmers to do the tillage and fertilization that unfortunately is still the standard practice prior to planting this year's crop. This might be the year to try something new and reduce some of this unnecessary tillage. Virtually all of the tillage routinely done in the fall is done as a habit with no agronomic advantage. Since much of this was not done last fall, there will be a mad dash to do more tillage this spring without concern for its effect on our water and soil resources.
This might be the year to try reducing tillage practices or, better yet, eliminate them in favor of no-till planting, at least when following a soybean crop. There are very few newer planters that can't plant successfully into undisturbed soybean stubble even without row cleaners. Farmers just need to be a little more attentive of soil conditions by delaying planting a couple more days to let the soil dry out. The time traditionally spent on tillage could be spent making sure the planter is properly adjusted.
Change is hard, but it can be done. Landowners, also, need to do their research and be supportive of changes to protect their investment in land and the collective well-being of our communities. We now know the long-term consequences of continuing traditional farming habits, which diminish our quality of life through continued reductions in water quality and land productivity.
As the importance of water quality and the reduction in soil erosion in Iowa grows, there are more and more programs to assist with the transition to a less destructive way of growing crops. If you are interested in making a change, contact your local NRCS or Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). In Cerro Gordo County, phone 641-424-4452. Several Federal programs offer support. State cost share information for no-till and cover crop implementation comes out in July. Your local SWCD office will get you on their list, so that you are ready to apply for programs when details for your county are announced. Let's take advantage of this opportunity and make a change.
Practices to improve water quality - May 2020
Even as we all struggle with the current public health emergency, let us not lose sight of the continuing efforts being made toward natural resource protection and climate change. I hope that by next summer we will have moved beyond the Coronavirus but the importance of vigilance concerning the quality of our water, the health of our soil, and the need to slow climate change will remain.
This summer two large Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) projects that are designed to reduce the amount of agricultural nitrogen reaching our surface waters, will be built in our area. One along Interstate 35, just south of Clear Lake, and one is planned for Floyd County a few miles south of the Floyd County Fairgrounds. These projects are just one part of multiple efforts being undertaken in our area to protect natural resources.
CREP is a federal, state, local, and private partnership that provides incentives to landowners who voluntarily create wetlands for water quality improvement in the tile-drained regions of our state. In addition to improving water quality, these wetlands provide wildlife habitat, increased recreational opportunities, and some flood mitigation. The sites are selected by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), based on the impact they would have on water quality. Once this is established, landowners are contacted. Monetary incentives to the landowner include up to 15 years of rental payments for all acres involved, 100% cost share for wetland restoration and buffer establishment, and an incentive payment for a 30-year or perpetual easement. This program is only available in 37 north central Iowa counties. North Central Iowa is responsible for the largest amount of excess nitrogen that leaves our state via the rivers that eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico.
Public concern about the detrimental effects of our agricultural systems are having on surface water quality is rising. Nitrate contamination can negatively affect human health and contribute to nutrient enrichment problems in surface waters. To substantially reduce the amount of nitrate in our surface water requires first, that producers use best management practices in the timing and amount of nitrogen applied to the land and second, that tile and surface water be treated in this type of wetlands. Iowa State University research has shown that strategically sited and designed wetlands can remove 40 to 90% of nitrates and up to 90% of herbicides from the cropland drainage water that passes through them. Obviously, if fertilizer rates are reduced and application is done closer to the time that the crop needs the nutrient, less downstream removal is needed. Better management practices, reduced tillage, use of cover crops, grassed waterways, and CREP sites all have a role to play in improving our local water quality.
Agencies involved with the selection, construction, and financing of these areas include IDALS, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Iowa State University, and The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). If you have concerns about the protection of land you own or operate, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District. In Cerro Gordo County call 641-424-4452 or visit www.cerrogordoswcd.org.