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Drainge well equipment
Practice: 
Nutrient Management

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Disclaimer: This is an active research site, please contact the research team prior to planning any site visits. 

Prairie strip
Practice: 
Land Management

Title:  Improving outcome predictability, multifunctionality and cost-effectiveness in nutrient reducing prairie strips

Location:  University of Northern Iowa, Tallgrass Prairie Center

Time Period:  2019-2021

Research Team:  Tallgrass Prairie Center, Justin Meissen, and Laura Jackson

Project Description:  The contour prairie strip is a promising conservation tool in our efforts to reduce nutrient loss from agricultural fields. In contrast to many other nutrient reduction practices, prairie strips can also enhance other ecosystem services, including soil quality restoration, wildlife habitat, and resilience to flooding. To optimize the value of prairie strips for nutrient reduction, we need a better understanding of how to: 1) improve the chances of successful implementation of prairie strip vegetation 2) maximize the ability of strips to provide multiple ecological benefits at once, and 3) improve cost-effectiveness of the practice. The project objective is to improve the implementation, multifunctionality, and cost-effectiveness of prairie contour strips for nutrient reduction. A previous field experiment established by the Tallgrass Prairie Center showed how contour prairie strips with strategically designed seed mixes and establishment management addresses multiple conservation challenges in a cost-effective manner. Our new project will build on these findings with the pursuit of three lines of new research. First, we will validate the conclusions of our previous field experiment- that diverse, moderately priced, grass and wildflower balanced seed mixes provide high levels of ecological function in a cost effective way- at a different location to strengthen the scientific basis for making practice recommendations. We also plan to evaluate how planting time (dormant season vs. growing season) affects stand establishment, cost-effectiveness, and functionality in prairie strips. Lastly, we will refine the seed mix strategy that balances seeding rates of grasses and wildflowers by investigating optimal ways that grasses and grass-like plants can be used in a seed mix designed for prairie strips to ensure multiple ecological benefits.  Results from this project will support science-based recommendations to farmers and other land managers that will improve their chances of success when implementing prairie strips.

Publications:

Funders:  Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Farm Service Agency

Disclaimer:  This is an active research site, please contact the research team prior to planning any site visits. 

Prairie strip
Practice: 
Land Management

Title:  Building cost-effective prairie for multiple nutrient reduction practices

Location:  ISU Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm

Time Period:  2016-2019

Research Team:  Tallgrass Prairie Center, Justin Meissen, Laura Jackson, and Ashley Kittle

Project Description:  The contour prairie strip reduces surface nutrient runoff and enhances other ecosystem services but conservation agency staff, professional farm managers and other technical service providers may be reluctant to recommend prairie contour strips to land managers due to lack of confidence in a successful outcomes. We assessed how seed mix design and establishment management can increase cost-effectiveness and ensure reliably successful outcomes in nutrient reducing prairie plantings by comparing native plant establishment and cost effectiveness with and without first-year mowing for three different seed mixes that differ in grass to forb ratios. Our findings show that diverse, moderately priced seed mixes with a balanced seeding rate of grasses to forbs (1:1) produce nutrient reducing prairies with the most additional conservation benefits at reasonable cost. When paired with first year mowing management, these benefits accrue faster.

Publications:  Meissen, J. C., Glidden, A. J., Sherrard, M. E., Elgersma, K. J., & Jackson, L. L. (2019). Seed mix design and first year management influence multifunctionality and cost‐effectiveness in prairie reconstruction. Restoration Ecology. In press.

Funders:  Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Farm Service Agency

Disclaimer:  This is an active research site, please contact the research team prior to planning any site visits. 

Dr. Ashley Keiser and others labeling Miscanthus giganteus (Freedom) with 13C-enriched CO2.
Practice: 
Nutrient Management

Title:  How does soil health differ between perennial and annual cropping systems across contrasting nitrogen fertilization treatments?

Location:  Boone and Newell

Time Period:  2017-2020

Research Team:  Ashley Keiser, Emily Heaton, Andy VanLoocke, and Marshall D. McDaniel

Project Description:  Building soil health increases agroecosystem resilience, but soil health is controlled by complex interactions between land management, climate, existing site fertility, and plant-soil feedbacks. While soil health can be assessed by many indicators from soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) content to crop yield, soil organic matter (SOM) content is the metric with extensive control over a wide range of ecosystem properties. For example, increased SOM content indicates greater soil C stocks, increased nutrient availability to plants, and, consequently, greater positive feedbacks between plants and soil. Many factors contribute to maintaining or building SOM, including fertilization (e.g., nitrogen retention) and crop type (e.g., perennial versus annual). When an annual cropping system is switched to perennials with greater root systems, such as grassland, soil carbon stocks increase. There is then potential for a concomitant increase in SOM, thereby shifting towards an increasingly resilient ecosystem. This has direct implications for sustainable agriculture because internal C and N cycling and retention, and thus soil health, may be improved through plant-soil C exchanges. Our research examines plant-soil feedbacks on soil C, and thus soil health, by determining the allocation of plant-derived C to plant, soil and microbial pools across cropping systems, N fertilization inputs, and site fertility. Our results will be used to: inform stakeholders through multiple outlets and extant programming; and improve agroecosystem models used by the scientific community to understand ecosystem function.

Specifically, we ask:

  1. How is C allocated in perennial versus annual plants and their associated belowground networks, and does this differ by site?
  2. How does soil microbial biomass and function, the engineers of soil health, differ between soils and crop type?
  3. Do additional N inputs (fertilizer application) affect C allocation both within the plant (above- versus belowground) and in the soil (microbial biomass and SOM)?

Publications: 

Funders:  Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture - Iowa Nutrient Research Center

Disclaimer:  This is an active research site, please contact the research team prior to planning any site visits. 

 

 

Researchers at site of streambank erosion
Practice: 
Edge-of-Field

Title:  Watershed-scale phosphorus inputs from streambanks

Location:  Onion Creek, Story and Boone Counties, IA; Nishnabotna River watershed, SW Iowa, Oakland; statewide

Time Period:  2019-2021

Research Team:  Peter Moore, Tom Isenhart, Keith Schilling, John Kovar, John Thomas (Hungry Canyons Alliance)

Project Description:  Streambanks were identified in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy as a potentially important but poorly quantified source of phosphorus (P) to surface waters. A 2016 review of literature cited bank contributions ranging from 6% to 93% of watershed P export in studies around the world. The wide range of results reflects substantial variation in time within watersheds, as well as spatial variation across watersheds in differing landscapes. This study addresses both temporal and spatial variability in P contributions from streambanks in Iowa. We are continuing an ongoing long-term study of the seasonal and inter-annual variability of bank erosion throughout the small (20 square mile) Onion Creek watershed in central Iowa. We are also using a remote sensing-based methodology called AIMM to automatically detect bank erosion across the state, allowing examination of spatial variation in P contributions. A third objective of this research is to use these methods to evaluate the effectiveness of bank stabilization and flow-training structures in reducing streambank contributions of P along adjacent stabilized and un-stabilized segments of the West Nishnabotna River, southwest Iowa.

Publications:

Funders:  Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Hungry Canyons Alliance

Disclaimer:  This is an active research site, please contact the research team prior to planning any site visits. 

 

lowa farmland
Practice: 
Multi-Objective

Title:  Understanding farmer and landowner decision-making and message preference concerning conservation practice adoption in the Clear Creek Watershed

Location:  NA

Time Period:  2018-2019

Research Team:  Megan M. Ruxton, Erin O. Heiden, Nahida Begum, and Mary E. Losch

Project Description:  This study provides an in-depth understanding of decision-making around conservation practice adoption across four farmer types (owner-operators, tenant farmers, owner-tenants and non-operating landowners) in Johnson and Iowa Counties. It also identifies persuasive conservation messages for use with these groups when seeking to encourage adoption of conservation practices that will improve water quality. By providing a more nuanced view of how each of these groups view and prioritize conservation as part of their land management, project partners can better understand the on-farm decision-making process, use that to support the development of better messaging, and find ways to help farmers overcome barriers to implementation to increase the adoption of conservation practices in the Clear Creek watershed.

Based on the themes identified through 15 in-depth interviews, several recommendations for persuasive messaging are made. The overall recommendation is to use a multi-tiered style of messaging. Any successful persuasive messaging strategy will require targeting different aspects of conservation and utilizing different frames that will appeal to several different groups of individuals. A key aspect to messaging strategies is to understand that conservation is conceived of broadly by participants. It is understood as an ethic for care of the land: conservation and preservation of natural resources; keeping the land natural and original; and leaving the land better than you found it. It is also understood as specific practices, such as rotating crops, reducing soil erosion, and using the appropriate amount of chemicals and products. While practices in use by participants tended to address issues of soil health and stability, the concept of conservation as articulated by all 15 individuals included everything from keeping ditches mowed to crop rotation to soil testing, with many of these practices having been in place for several decades.

Publications:  Ruxton, M. M., Heiden, E. O., Begum, N., & Losch, M. E.. (2019). Understanding farmer and landowner decision-making and message preference concerning conservation practice adoption in the Clear Creek Watershed. University of Northern Iowa, Center for Social and Behavioral Research.

Funders:  Iowa Nutrient Research Center

Corn Root - V.A. Nichols
Practice: 
Nutrient Management

Title:  The Root of the Matter–Are Changes in Corn Root Morphology Responsible for Improved Yield and Higher Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Diversified Cropping Systems?

Location:  Iowa State University Marsden Farm

Time Period:  2019-2021

Research Team:  Matt Liebman, Matt Woods, and Virginia Nichols

Project Description:  There is an important need to develop sustainable alternatives to the corn-soybean cropping system that dominates the upper Midwest, as evidenced by recurring problems with water quality, susceptibility to weather extremes, and low profitability. Many of the shortcomings of the existing corn-soybean system are due to its sole reliance on short-season annual crops and the exclusion of deep-rooted perennial crops like alfalfa that provide long periods of living cover. We hypothesize that much of the benefit of alfalfa-based cropping systems to corn and to the environment derives from the joint effects of improving soil physical conditions to promote corn root growth while increasing the N-supply power of soil, especially in deeper soil layers. To test this hypothesis, we will measure soil physical properties, corn root architecture, soil N dynamics, and corn performance in a long-term experiment in Boone Co., IA, that includes a 2-year corn-soybean rotation and a 4-year corn-soybean-oat/alfalfa-alfalfa rotation. We expect that soil resistance to corn root penetration will be lower, corn root systems will be larger and deeper, and the rate of potential nitrogen mineralization from soil organic matter will be greater for corn following alfalfa than following soybean. Empirical data from these research plots will be used within the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator model (APSIM), which can assess the impact of various soil, climate, and crop management factors on crop productivity, nitrate leaching, and nitrous oxide emissions to the atmosphere. Insights from this project will inform strategies promoting higher agronomic productivity, greater N use efficiency, and lower potential for N discharges to water and air. The objectives of the proposed work are aligned with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center's call for the evaluation of "new techniques and strategies that add knowledge leading to cost‐effective reduction of nonpoint source N."

Publications:  Nichols, V.A., M. Liebman, and S.V. Archontoulis. 2019. Modeling the roots of the rotation effect. Abstracts of the 2019 American Society of Agronomy Meeting. On-line at: https://scisoc.confex.com/scisoc/2019am/meetingapp.cgi/Paper/118379.

Funders:  Iowa Nutrient Research Center

Disclaimer:  This is an active research site, please contact the research team prior to planning any site visits. 

Iowa landscape
Practice: 
Multi-Objective

Title:  The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll

Location:  Iowa State Campus

Time Period:  1982-present

Research Team:  J. Arbuckle

Project Description:  The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll (IFRLP) is an annual panel survey of Iowa farmers. The IFRLP project is a year-round effort to help stakeholders who work with farmers to develop and answer research questions and generate information that improves the effectiveness of their programs and policies. I work closely with ISU faculty from diverse departments (e.g., Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Agronomy, Entomology, Natural Resource Ecology and Management) and with major stakeholders (e.g., Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources) to help them identify and articulate research questions focused on the major challenges and issues that they face.

Publications:  Numerous reports - https://ext.soc.iastate.edu/programs/iowa-farm-and-rural-life-poll/

Funders:  Iowa State University Extension, Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station

 

NWRF bioreactor
Practice: 
Edge-of-Field

Location:  Northwest Research Farm

Time Period:  2019-present

Research Team:  Matt Helmers, Kay Stefanik, and farm personnel.

Denitrification bioreactors for removal of nitrate in tile drainage are new water quality technology that has rapidly gained interest in Iowa. A bioreactor is composed of an excavated trench filled with woodchips that are colonized by denitrifying bacteria. As drainage waters containing nitrate flow by these “good” bacteria, they convert the nitrate in the water to nitrogen gas. A critical component in evaluating the performance of these treatment systems is the documentation not only of nitrate concentrations in the drainage water, but also the flow rate and volume of the water treated in the bioreactor.

A bioreactor 20 ft wide x 100 ft. long was installed in August 2019. Flow rate into and out of the bioreactor will be evaluated along with nitrate-N concentration entering and leaving the bioreactor to document nitrate-N removal by this system. 

Funders:  Northwest Research Farm Association, Prinsco, and Heinsohn Digging

Trial preparation for microbial research
Practice: 
Nutrient Management

Title:  Environmental and agronomic assessment of microbial nitrogen fertilization technologies in corn cropping systems

Location:  Iowa State University Ag Engineering and Agronomy Farm, Boone

Time Period:  2019-present

Research Team:  Steven Hall, Matthew Helmers, William Crumpton, Sotirios Archontoulis, and Michael Castellano

Project Description:  We seek to characterize the potential environmental and agronomic co-benefits of Pivot Bio microbial nitrogen (N) fertilization technologies applied as a partial replacement for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer in corn cropping systems. Microbial N technology has the potential to significantly increase the efficiency of crop N uptake in both space and time. As a consequence of synchronizing reactive N inputs with plant demand and producing this N directly in the plant root zone, we predict that microbial N will be less vulnerable to loss as nitrate or nitrous oxide than an equivalent N mass applied as synthetic fertilizer or manure. To test the impact of microbial N on nitrate leaching, we are using a novel field mesocosm technique whereby intact blocks of soil (5’ x 5’ x 4’) are encased in steel boxes with a single drain. The volume and chemical composition of drainage water is monitored to enable complete measurements of nitrate leaching from each soil block.

Publications: 

Funders:  Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council (INREC)

Disclaimer:  This is an active research site, please contact the research team prior to planning any site visits. 

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