Mantaining soil quality

Farms from land across the Lyon’s Creek Watershed gathered on Tuesday at Briggs Woods park to discuss soil health and a state sponsored nutrient reduction strategy.

The Lyon’s Creek Watershed covers about 11,000 acres, 75 percent of which is cropland. A watershed is basically all of the water in an area of land that drains into one area. This watershed converges to drain into the Boone River.

Adam Kiel, representative from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, presented the nutrient reduction strategy to a couple dozen farmers. This strategy was put out by the DNR and the Department of Agriculture in response to a request

from the Environmental Protection Agency to address nutrient runoff from Iowa into the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico from a 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan that also involves 12 other states.

When nitrogen from fertilizer finds its way into the water, it, along with all of the other nutrients from farms near water that drains into the Mississippi River, it gets dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. That nitrogen feeds algae blooms, which causes the water near the bloom to have very low oxygen levels. The size of those blooms depends largely on how much nutrient runoff there is every year. Fish and other aquatic animals near the bloom die from lack of oxygen.

“With that comes the need for folks like you and other folks in the Lyons Creek watershed to do their part to show that voluntary does work in Iowa and that we can do it,” Kiel said.

While the drought helped keep nutrients in the soil this past year, the Iowa nutrient reduction strategy calls for voluntary adoption of practices that will help reduce nutrient runoff. That includes planting cover crops during the winter, strip tilling, keeping terraces and buffer strips between farmland and water sources.

“A lot of people in Iowa see this report, this strategy, as avoiding regulation and they’re probably right,” Kiel said. “If we didn’t do this in Iowa, we would probably be facing regulation at some point down the road, maybe five or 10 years.”

State soil scientist Richard Bednarek also spoke at the meeting about soil quality and health. He defined soil health as the capacity of soil to function in cycling nutrients to water and feeding growing plants. Tillage, fertilizer, livestock and pesticides can improve soil health, but can also damage it if not applied correctly.

He said disturbing soil less, diversifying crops, keeping soil covered as much as possible by growing plants or their residues, keeping living roots growing through the year and more helps crops grow for the long term.