Iowa State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Research @ College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Research Impacts

Environmental Protection


Conservation buffer research a national model for water quality

Issue

buffer

There is a need to reduce the movement of soil, nutrients and chemicals from farmland into Iowa's rivers and streams.

So What?

Iowa State University research in the Bear Creek Watershed in north-central Iowa continues to expand the understanding of the role of conservation buffers in reducing nonpoint source pollution. Since the first trees and grasses were planted 17 years ago, the project has grown to nearly 10 miles of buffers with many cooperating landowners. The site continues to earn its designation as a National Restoration Demonstration Watershed.

Impact

The field-scale research has shown that buffers can reduce surface runoff, biologically filter nutrients and pesticides, stabilize streambanks, sequester carbon, provide wildlife habitat and potentially provide feedstock for biofuels. The resulting management recommendations have been incorporated into practice standards at both state and national levels. The research recently has expanded into watersheds throughout Iowa and in northeast Missouri.

Contact: Richard Schultz, Natural Resource Ecology and Management, (515) 294-7602, rschultz@iastate.edu

Tracking cow movement, impact on streams

Issue

Russell

Researchers are evaluating the effects of cattle grazing management strategies on stream bank erosion and phosphorus loading of pasture streams, the forage in riparian or upland areas, and the time cattle are in or near pasture streams. The research involves cattle at the Rhodes Research Farm wearing GPS collars.

So What?

The goal is to find ways to enhance both pasture and water quality by changes in grazing management practices.

Impact

Results suggest restricting stream access to stabilized crossings and/or using rotational grazing reduces the percentage of time cattle are in or near streams while maintaining forage quantities and stream bank coverage. Providing cows with off-stream water also reduced the time cattle are in or near pasture streams.

Contact: James Russell, Animal Science, (515) 294-4631, jrussell@iastate.edu

Preserving and restoring water quality in Iowa

Issue

It has been assumed that Iowans want better recreational areas, and that the state could attract new residents by touting its recreational amenities. But no hard data existed to support those assumptions.

So What?

By collecting and analyzing detailed data on the pattern of lake visitation by residents of Iowa and the water quality of those lakes, researchers have found a strongly positive correlation between lake choice and its associated water quality. Iowans are willing to spend time and money driving further from home in order to enjoy lakes with better water quality.

Impact

Information from this research has been used by Iowa's Department of Natural Resources to support prioritization of lakes for restoration, helping to assure that conservation spending is focused on the most valuable restoration. Current research efforts are underway to develop similar information for rivers and streams in the state.

Contact: Catherine Kling, Economics, (515) 294-5767, ckling@iastate.edu

No-till organic system for improved soil health

Issue

In 1980, the Rodale Institute began experimenting with cover cropping and reduced tillage farming systems. In 2002, it produced a front-mounted, ground-driven, single-drum, crimper-roller implement designed to crush standing cover crops and plant crops, including corn, soybeans and pumpkins, in a single pass.

So What?

In 2006, Iowa State University became a cooperator in this national project with the first trial established at the ISU Neeley-Kinyon Farm. Organic crops were no-tilled into a rolled cover crop of vetch/rye or wheat/winter pea mixtures.

Impact

The paste tomato crop grown that year averaged 75,000 pounds per acre, and there was a 600% reduction in early weed populations in the no-till plots compared to the tilled plots. Testing continues in 2007 with an emphasis on monitoring any changes in soil quality.

Contact: Kathleen Delate, Horticulture/Agronomy, (515) 294-7069, kdelate@iastate.edu

10 years of research on organic crops

Issue

2007 marked the 10th anniversary of what is believed to be the largest randomized, replicated comparison of organic and conventional crops in the nation. The research is done at the ISU Neely-Kinyon Research Farm near Greenfield.

So What?

With the market for organic products steadily growing at 20% annually, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture supported establishment of the project in 1998 to evaluate agronomic and economic outcomes of a conventional corn-soybean rotation versus organic rotations of corn-soybean-oat/alfalfa and corn-soybean-oat/alfalfa-alfalfa.

Impact

Statistically equivalent or greater yields, increased profitability, and steadily improved soil quality has occurred in organic over conventional rotations in the first nine years of the project. The lower costs of production and higher premium prices of the organic crops bode well for producers looking for higher returns while building soils.

Contact: Kathleen Delate, Horticulture/Agronomy, (515) 294-7069, kdelate@iastate.edu

Butterflies and bees can help restore prairies

Issue

Butterfly on Debinski

Efforts to restore prairie areas are gaining increased attention in Iowa. Yet more needs to be known about the best methods to make restoration possible.

So What?

Researchers are looking at a variety of methods to improve prairie restoration efforts for pollinators in agroecosystems. The work has involved roadside prairie restorations, filter strips adjacent to crop fields, and large-scale prairie restorations.

Impact

Researchers have found the composition of the plant community in linear habitats such as roadsides and filter strips affects the composition of the pollinator community. Filter strip width and the height and vertical density of vegetation are important in attracting prairie specialist butterflies. Large, integrated prairie restoration projects have a higher diversity of butterfly species, while bee populations are higher in isolated restorations.

Contact: Diane Debinski, Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, (515) 294-2460, debinski@iastate.edu