In September, I was near Webster City for a tour hosted by the Iowa Soybean Association. We visited a local farmer, Arlo Van Diest, and his wife, Claudia, who own and farm 2,300 acres to produce corn and soybeans. They recently received the 2012 Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award.
I was impressed with how the Van Diest farm uses a system of conservation practices that combine innovation with proven technologies to keep nutrients out of local waterways. They use strip tillage, which disturbs less soil and results in less erosion than conventional tillage. Seeing the positive results, Arlo purchased a second strip till machine that he loans to neighboring farmers so they can try strip tillage on their own farms. With the assistance of the Iowa Soybean Association, Arlo buried woodchip bioreactors under part of some fields near tile drains to intercept the drainage water and turn the nitrate into harmless nitrogen gas.
I was fortunate enough to visit during the harvest and even rode on a combine as it collected corn. The combine has equipment that displays the yield generated with each row harvested. I quickly recognized that Arlo’s willingness to embrace advanced technology, along with his strong commitment to environmental stewardship, made it possible to both efficiently grow crops and conserve aspects of the local ecosystem.
Just a few miles away, I visited a local stream monitoring site in Lyons Creek Watershed. The Iowa Soybean Association’s commitment to a healthy watershed is demonstrated by their pursuit of funding for monitoring equipment and analysis. A representative, Todd Sutphin, told me how funding from various sources, including EPA, contributed to improved monitoring practices and nutrient management solutions in this watershed.
It was an amazing, impressive experience to see the endless acres of corn waving in the fresh breeze. I learned a lot on this trip about how farmers are using both innovative and traditional conservation practices to benefit financially by keeping the nutrients for the crops and reduce water pollution at the same time. Given that agriculture is a major source of the nutrients entering not only the local waterways of Iowa, but also the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, I was heartened to see this progress.
About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water