Water Quality is a Key Element for Practical Farmers of Iowa

(Radio Iowa) An Iowa-based group that aims to help farmers practice a form of agriculture that benefits both the land and the people is working to recruit new members, especially in northwest Iowa. Practical Farmers of Iowa agronomist Sarah Carlson says the issue of water quality is one key area where they’ve determined they can start discussions with potential members.

“It allowed us to talk more about the way that diverse rotation, the way that cover crops in a system, the way that grazing, having a living root in the ground year-round cleans up water, because it really does,” Carlson says. “It helps reduce nitrate loss and it helps reduce erosion, which are our two biggest water pollutants.” She says striving to control soil loss and preventing nitrates from entering the water table are important concerns for Iowa growers.

“Those are things that PFI farmers had been working on and researching for decades, and then there was an awakening amongst farmers about, ‘Oh, yeah, we used to do this,’ and ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that it helped clean our water.'” Some of the older concepts are still very much workable, especially with precision agriculture, which Carlson says has led to a new term, precision conservation.

“So for example, of an 80-acre field, there’s probably a spot in there on the yield map that is red all the time or you can’t plant through because it’s wet all the time,” Carlson says. “We work with farmers to diagnose those spots and get them out of production and put them into some sort of conservation project.” She says cover crops is another topic where PFI can start conversations with farmers. Founded in 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa is a non-profit organization seeking to connect farmers with farmers to share what they are learning in their own fields to make their operations better.

(By John Slegers, KLEM, Le Mars)