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Iowa Learning Farms virtual field days to focus on water quality

December 5, 2022  By Iowa State University

Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and Conservation Learning Group, will hold two upcoming virtual field days focusing on improving water quality.

The Dec. 8 virtual field day will focus on drainage water recycling, followed by a Dec. 15 virtual field day focused on riparian saturated buffers.

Both events begin at 1 p.m. CDT. The Dec. 8 event will feature Matt Helmers, Iowa Nutrient Research Center director and agricultural engineering specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Chris Hay, Iowa Soybean Association senior research scientist; Shane Wulf, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship senior environmental specialist; and Mark Schleisman, Calhoun County farmer and landowner.

Drainage water recycling is a drainage management system designed to capture water during wet periods so it can be used later when growing crops are thirsty. Versions have been around for years, but adoption has remained limited. Now interest is growing as the practice is recognized for its potential to improve water quality and help farmers reduce risks from weather volatility.


During both virtual field days, attendees will have the chance to get a closer look at new installations being used to collect in-field data on the performance of these systems. These sites are being studied as part of a research project led by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and the Iowa Soybean Association analyzing drainage water recycling’s costs and benefits, with funding from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and the EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Division.

“Too much rain or not enough rain are two of the biggest problems for Iowa crops most years,” said Chris Hay. “Drainage water recycling can help farmers address these challenges. Research — mostly done in other states — shows it can boost yields by up to 50% for corn and 30% for soybeans. Our early work modeling it here in Iowa also shows potential for significant yield gains, especially in dry years, and the system can also benefit water quality and wildlife. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to predict what farmers can expect in terms of return on investment.”

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