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    Explore the water quality impact of cover crops

    ISU Extension and Outreach
    ISU Extension and Outreach
    ISU Extension and Outreach reliable information about agriculture, 4H programs, food and nutrition, and family sciences. ISU Extension and Outreach has an office in Muscatine.

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    By Liz Ripley–Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

    See how cover crops, in the long term, can help reduce nutrient loss.

    AMES, Iowa – Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and Conservation Learning Group, is hosting a free virtual field day discussing spring cover crop management tips and the impact of cover crops on water quality as part of the Conservation Learning Labs project on April 15 at 1 p.m.

    Join for a live discussion with Mark Licht, Iowa State University assistant professor and cropping systems specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach, and Matt Helmers, professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering and extension ag engineering specialist at Iowa State, who also directs the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

    Cover crops are one of the key practices of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy aimed at reducing nutrient losses from the landscape to our rivers and streams. Additionally, cover crops offer a wide range of benefits including reducing soil erosion, improving infiltration and soil health, weed suppression, and grazing opportunities. Best management practices for spring management of cover crops are key to maximizing those benefits and reducing potential yield reductions.

    The Conservation Learning Labs project, started in 2016, explores the water quality impact of high levels of cover crop and reduced tillage implementation on a small watershed scale. The project focused on watersheds between 500 and 1,300 total acres in size located in Floyd and Story counties. The watersheds have existing Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program wetlands that provided baseline water quality monitoring data. The continued monitoring allows for the comparison of water quality before and after conservation practice implementation and to a similarly sized control watershed that did not implement conservation practices.

    “Through three years of water quality monitoring, we have not seen reduction in nitrate levels in the watersheds with conservation practices implemented, possibly due to limited growth of cover crops,” noted Helmers. “This is a reason long-term water quality monitoring is critical.”

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