Demonstrating best practices for improving soil health and water quality has been front and center for many north Iowa farmers this summer. Loran Steinlage has hosted several field days on his 750-acre farm, explaining successful, regenerative practices he’s tried, such as cover crops, interceding and relay cropping.
He says as Mother Nature unfolds her hand each year, he adjusts his rotation schedule for growing corn, soybeans, cereal rye and winter wheat.
Steinlage says he not only has reduced the cost of fertilizer, but tests have found some soil samples from his fields are now healthier than “native” soils.
A 2017 Center for Rural Affairs survey of Iowa farmers found that in order to lower financial risks, 86% considered soil health when deciding on new farming practices. Cody Smith with the Center says a 1% increase in organic matter in the top six inches on an acre of land can allow the soil to hold an additional 27,000 gallons of water.
Mitchell Hora is a seventh-generation farmer and the founder of a soil-health consulting company. He says it’s long been thought that it takes 10 years to improve soil, but his work shows the turnaround can be much faster.
The Center for Rural Affairs has found that concerns about soil health can bring Iowa farmers into water-quality discussions. When that happens, Iowa’s watershed planning and related projects have higher success rates for implementation.