Roadmap to Farm Production & Water Protection
Almost 20 years ago, the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Board of Directors began engaging a mounting challenge: to improve both agricultural production and water quality. Adding environmental performance to their mission led to establishment and growth of ISA’s Environmental Programs and Services (EPS).
The ISA EPS team has spent a decade developing programs, tools and services for improving water quality while strengthening Iowa’s agricultural economy and rural communities. Team specialists in planning, resource assessment, water monitoring and analysis, crop consulting and fundraising now provide contracted or grant-funded technical support to help farmers and other local leaders identify and achieve their watershed goals while maintaining agricultural productivity and profitability.
Whether at field, farm or watershed scale, the road to improved performance requires local commitment to a planning process and adaptive implementation of the plan. Good planning can attract the funding resources needed to achieve the desired results. It begins with gathering assessment data and engaging local farmers and other leaders in plan development and implementation. Monitoring progress and using monitoring data to make course corrections along the way completes the adaptive implementation cycle.
Here are the Services ISA EPS Offers:
Watershed assessments may include water quality, land use, soil types, topography, wildlife and vegetation, social and economic activity and customs, industries, population distribution and conditions in the stream. Collaborating with other experts from public and private institutions, ISA EPS can coordinate a complete watershed assessment, gathering data needed to identify issues of concern, establish goals, write plans, focus efforts and target resources. At the field and farm scale, ISA EPS helps farmers assess conditions and management of soil, nutrients, pests, cropping systems, fuel efficiency in crop production and other environmental priorities.
Examples of ISA’s assessment toolkit are monitoring and analyzing ground and surface water (including well water), preparing Rapid Watershed Assessments, conducting RASCAL (Rapid Assessment of Stream Conditions Along Length), conducting guided cornstalk sampling and testing soil quality.
“The watershed plan serves as a road map, written so stakeholders can know where they are, determine where they want to go and draft a route to get there,” says Todd Sutphin, ISA EPS state watershed coordinator and certified environmental planner.
Sutphin has written plans for six Iowa watersheds, using protocols developed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).
EPS services also include facilitating meetings and engaging watershed farmers. Consulting with partnering experts, local participants identify the suite of solutions most suited to their watershed. Plans include strategies for implementation, measuring performance, adjusting the plan to improve performance and fund development.
ISA EPS can work with public and private partners to help constituents seek financial and technical resources, recruit participants and implement the plan.
For some projects, ISA EPS staff write enhanced resource management system plans (including nutrient, soil, pest and energy management) to help farmers and crop consultants integrate environmental with agronomic and economic performance goals.
Implementation might include a portfolio of in-field and edge-of-field solutions and innovative practices, such as denitrifying bioreactors, conservation tillage, cover crops, stream buffers, streambank stabilization and shallow wetlands.
Evaluation and Adjustment Services
Ongoing evaluation and adjustments based on feedback data are required to achieve performance goals. ISA EPS can evaluate water quality, stream conditions, soil quality and overall plan implementation. Water monitoring, stalk sampling and soil sampling in treated and control areas, and aerial imagery help watershed organizers understand which solutions are performing best in their locale and adjust accordingly.
Contact Todd Sutphin for more information on how to partner with ISA EPS for local projects and contract EPS services: email@example.com; 515-334-1052.
Partners Speak Out About Water Quality Projects
Working with farmers, Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), state and federal agencies, academia and conservation groups, ISA EPS has helped several Iowa watersheds conduct assessments, write and implement plans and attract millions of dollars to implement conservation practices.
Here’s What Some Watershed Stakeholders Say:
Kevin Griggs, Boone County’s SWCD chairman, regarding work on the Don Williams Lake Watershed Project, undertaken as a pilot for future projects through an ongoing water quality improvement partnership with Keep Boone County Beautiful:
“After receiving a grant to start the planning process, we hired ISA EPS Watershed Coordinator Todd Sutphin to help with a plan. Our purpose was to better understand the problems of the watershed so we could get funding to help us develop solutions.
“The major benefit of using ISA EPS is that planning is done in close cooperation with landowners, rather than the government. When it’s locally led and done by working with a friendly organization farmers are familiar with, the process goes a lot easier.”
Eileen Bader, TNC freshwater specialist, on the Boone River Watershed project:
“The water quality data collected and analyzed by ISA staff has advanced the overall progress of the Boone River Watershed project through identifying areas most in need of targeted best management practices. Establishing baseline data was pivotal in creating the proposal that secured significant federal and private funding, increasing conservation practice adoption within the watershed.”
Richard Sims, Iowa state conservationist, USDA-NRCS:
“Our interim standard for bioreactors is based on information established through the research and leadership of the ISA EPS. This is a key practice featured in the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). Edge of field monitoring, a new practice for us, is also a component of MRBI. ISA has been an important partner and resource for NRCS and our customers for water quality monitoring services… We also highly value ISA’s role as an advocate for watershed planning within private industry. Their leadership helps broaden the partnership and bring more of the ag industry to the table.”