In 2016, Taylor County SWCD began a 3-year Water Quality Initiative project unlike any other in the state. Following the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Taylor County is focusing on their landscape and how growers can fully utilize the land they farm. The rolling hills, multiple soil types within a single field, gullies, and thin soils on side hills have all been known to lower yields and crop production for the main commodity crops, corn and soybeans in the county. Not all farm ground is created equal and should not be farmed the same. Knowing this, the SWCD Commissioners have decided to take matters in their own hands and deliver alternatives to their growers.
Partnering with EFC Systems and their web-based Profit Zone Manager (PZM) tool, producers can virtually see where working capital can be reallocated to maximize ROI and make more profitable and sustainable land management decisions. In other words, using this tool, producers can create and compare scenarios on their fields to determine which practices, rotations, or land management changes maximizes their ROI.
“Farm the best, Regenerate the rest” is a message that fits this project to a “T”. The goal of the Taylor County WQI project is to seed down marginal crop acres that have historically been unproductive and unprofitable to ultimately farm only “the best”. To do so, the SWCD is offering financial incentives to help make land management changes on marginal acres. The two practices currently offered are “Crop to Hay or Pasture” and “Summer Fall Grazer”.
The Summer Fall Grazer is offered at $80/ac with 20 acres maximum per year and will encourage a third crop and livestock grazing. Incorporating small grains, summer seeding with fall grazing mix, and cover crops through a 3-year rotation will provide another alternative for growers. With this 3-year option, growers can still farm their cash crops while providing cover and grazing to help reduce soil and nutrient loss. An example of this rotation is the following:
Fall 2018: Small Grain Crop: Wheat, Rye, Triticale (Hay or Combine)
Must overwinter, leave as much straw for soil health purposes
Summer 2019: Diverse Summer/Fall Grazer
Some of the mix should overwinter
Spring 2020: Plant cash crop
Fall 2020: Cover Crop must overwinter
Spring 2021: Plant cash crop
To help strengthen the importance of cover crops and a small grain crop, participants complete a spreadsheet based on their own expenses and inputs to compare this WQI rotation to their traditional corn-bean rotation. Along with the PZM tool, the goal is for producers to recognize the economic and environmental benefit of having a diverse crop rotation while providing additional forage for their livestock operations.
Example Summer/Fall Grazer mix planted after small grain harvest:
- Legumes: crimson clover (cool season), cowpeas (warm season), sunn hemp (ws)
- Grasses: oats (cs), triticale (cs)forage sorghum(ws)pearl millet(ws)
- Brassicas: radish (cs), forage collards, (cs)
- Broadleaves: buckwheat (ws), sunflower (ws)
For the last 3 years, over 1,500 acres and 125 fields have been part of the Taylor County WQI project. More than 80 producers have utilized PZM and more than 60 producers have made positive land management changes. As this project moves forward for another 3 years, Taylor County SWCD will continue helping growers consider alternatives to farming marginal acres.
The Keokuk County Soil & Water Conservation District celebrated their 75th Anniversary on November 8, 2018 at the USDA/NRCS Office in Sigourney. Presenting the 75th anniversary plaque to the Keokuk County Soil & Water Conservation District Board Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners was Kurt Simon, NRCS State Conservationist. History of the Keokuk County SWCD was displayed with refreshments served. The District was organized on October 23, 1943 with three Commissioners. The Founding Board members were Carl Griner, Glen Sorden and Solon T. Yates. Also serving as District Commissioners were Clifford Streigle, Ben Lee, Earl Grove, Martin Rice, Arley Atwood, Raymond Klein, Keith Slater, Leon Streigle, Harold Lee, Dale Stanley, Leonard Bayliss, Lee Henry, David Flint, Donald Millikin, Laurena Hammes, Richard Swanson, Homer Kerr, Leo Sieren, Gary Bates, Larry Striegel, Clinton Mikesell and David Klein. Thirty five Assistant Commissioner have served on the board beginning in 1955. Since 1943 there have only been three District Conservationists and they were George Thornburn, Donald Borts, and Larry Stevens.
L to r: John Whitaker, Conservation Districts of Iowa Executive Director; Clint Mikesell, David Klein, Leo Sieren, Larry Striegel, Gary Bates, Kurt Simon, NRCS State Conservationist, Donald Millikin, Nick Hammes, Nick Beinhart and Susan Kozak, IDALS-Division of Soil Conservation & Water Quality Acting Director.
John Whitaker has recently been selected to serve as the Executive Director of the Conservation Districts of Iowa. Mr. Whitaker most recently served as the State Executive Director for USDA Farm Service Agency in Iowa under President Obama.
“I am honored to be working with CDI which is dedicated to conserving our soil, natural resources and improving water quality in Iowa” said Whitaker.
In addition to serving in USDA, Mr. Whitaker served ten years as County Supervisor in Van Buren County and seven years in the Iowa House of Representative. During his legislative service, he served two years as an Assistant Minority Leader and three years as an Assistant Majority Leader. He also served three years as Vice President, and nine years as President of the Iowa Farmers Union.
“We are thrilled to have someone with John’s conservation ethic and public service background join CDI” stated Alex Schmidt, President of CDI.
John continues to be actively engaged in their family farm operations with his brother Bruce and son Gabe. They raise corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, rye, and hay by no till methods. They feed hogs for Niman Ranch in a deep bedding system and have a cow/calf herd.
John and his wife Lorrie are both graduates of ISU along with their three children Gabe, Daniel and Becca. He is active in both the Hillsboro Baptist Church and First Baptist Church in Ames. John is also active in his local Masonic lodge, Order of the Eastern Star, Pheasants Forever, and serves as chair of Veterans in Agriculture (John is a non-veteran member).
The mission of CDI is to inform, educate and lead Iowans through our local soil and water conservation districts to promote conservation of our natural resources. CDI is the nonprofit umbrella organization representing the 100 local soil and water conservation commissions and the 500 locally elected commissioners who make up those local commissions.