Be Proactive with Conservation in 2021

Preparing your fields for seasons of unpredictability is the new norm and a variety of conservation practices can help.

While 2020 has been a relatively calm growing season across most parts of the Midwest, not every year is so.

Implementing conservation practices can strengthen your soil and farm’s financial health, which Wayne Fredericks, corn and soybean farmer near Osage, Iowa, can attest to.

In 2014, he began to address his farm’s challenges through a profitability analysis and a wide range of conservation initiatives.

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Fredericks, who is an advocate for conservation and wildlife habitats, has implemented buffer strips, no-till and strip till management, cover crops, and woodchip bioreactors.

He also has seven pollinator habitats located strategically across his farm.

“We’ve added conservation for different reasons and at different places,” he says.

Fredericks incorporated pollinator habitat around a sinkhole – squaring off the area to better navigate around with equipment. He has planted habitats to replace underperforming areas of fields near windbreaks and around building sites.

Where there was poor soil and water quality issues, buffer strips are in place. In 2016, Fredericks installed a woodchip bioreactor to further to treat the water leaving his fields and planted habitat alongside the bioreactor – taking advantage of every usable space he can.

According to the Whole Farm Conservation Practices Manual by Iowa State University and the USDA-NRCS, edge-of-field practices like bioreactors can reduce the amount of nitrate-nitrogen that leaves subsurface drainage networks.

On average, nitrate-nitrogen is reduced by:

  • 52 percent with treatment wetlands
  • 53 percent with saturated buffers
  • 43 percent with bioreactors
  • 32 percent with controlled drainage

Choosing conservation to improve the areas of your farm that struggle can have a ripple effect.

Cover crops and reduced tillage may lead to better soil structure and water holding capacity. Pollinator and wildlife habitat enrich the living ecosystem in land largely dedicated to row crop production. Edge-of-field structures contribute to states’ nutrient reduction strategies.

All toward the greater goal of a healthy farm that could weather many storms.

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