AMES, Iowa — Edge-of-field solutions can be employed by farmers to reduce nutrient delivery to streams and contribute to improved overall water quality. Edge-of-field structures have proven to be very effective at reducing downstream nutrient delivery. With a variety of options, selection of the most appropriate practice based on terrain, soil type, landscape position and drainage system will affect the success of each effort.
A newly created publication titled The Whole Farm Conservation Best Practices Manual, produced by the Conservation Learning Group, a think tank based at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, includes detailed information regarding edge-of-field solutions farmers can employ to reduce nutrient delivery to streams and contribute to improved overall water quality.
It incorporates edge-of-field practices including wetlands, bioreactors, saturated buffers, controlled drainage and prairie strips, providing information as well as visual decision tools to help determine the best applications based on terrain, soil type, crop and other factors. In addition, it contains sections on in-field practices including tillage management, cover crops and diverse rotations.
The manual was developed in cooperation with the Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and Practical Farmers of Iowa, and with the support and input from multiple local, state and federal organizations.
“Edge-of-field concepts are still new to a lot of farmers and landowners, and we are diligently working to provide practical education about different practices, where they will do the most good, and what outcomes can be expected,” said Matt Helmers, CLG faculty adviser, director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and dean’s professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. “This manual is not intended to be a do-it-yourself guide, but rather to let users explore multiple options through providing comparable information for decision making and tools to help determine the best fit for a particular site. Our hope is this will give them the foundation to make confident choices and guide discussions with service providers to get maximum benefit when implemented.”
Get a copy
The manual is available for free download or in hard copy from the ISU Extension Store, and is designed in an easy-to-use graphical format.
In 2019, Helmers and Chris Hay, senior manager for production systems innovation with the Iowa Soybean Association, facilitated a forum to discuss edge-of-field research, field practices and needs. Participants in the forum included drainage contractors, engineers, non-governmental organizations, state and federal government organizations, scientists and drainage industry representatives with direct experience in implementing these different practices in Iowa. The edge-of-field components of the manual are based on the input from this broad cross-section of the groups.
“The manual is intended to provide a broad scope of conservation options that can help increase success rates and minimize wasted time and effort by farmers, landowners and service providers as they do preliminary evaluation of what practices might be best for particular areas as well as addressing the conservation and business objectives of the farmer or landowner,” said Helmers.
The manual is a joint publication of Iowa State University and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
To learn more about Conservation Learning Group outreach and education programs, visit them on the web at https://www.conservationlearninggroup.org/.
— Liz Ripley, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
For more news from Iowa, click here.