The spring of 2013, at least in northeast Iowa, has provided a vivid reminder that conservation practices are vital to the sustainability of crop production and maintenance of decent water quality. The USGS stream gauge near my office registered 16” of rain between April 1 and June 1. I’m not saying the more conservation would have prevented erosion, but the presence of cover crops, vegetative waterways or filter strips could have significantly reduced the damage to fields and kept soil in the field rather than in the stream.
Events like these increase awareness to the benefits of soil saving practices, but how do we increase awareness around nutrient losses? Yes, phosphorus losses increase as soil loss increases, but creating awareness about the issue of soluble nutrient losses such as nitrogen is also necessary to a encourage a change in management practices that reduce nutrient losses?
The primary action when bringing a group of farmers together to discuss water quality issues is building awareness around the issue. Each watershed where active groups have formed was previously identified by the Iowa DNR and US EPA (Section 303(d)) as being impaired . In every instance the farmers in the watershed did not know of the impairment or what this identification really meant to them. They also wanted their first course of action to involve collecting more information.
In all cases a simple water monitoring program provided adequate information to reinforce the previous DNR findings. Then the farmers were ready to act.