Water management and conservation has become a big topic in the Ag Industry. Practices to conserve and manage water are gaining popularity. Iowa is receiving more rainfall, the question is: why?
“We really don’t know. But we know contributing factors. Perhaps we have more humidity in the air. Perhaps the air was warmer than it was a century ago and warmer air holds more water,” said Iowa State University Extension Climatologist, Elwynn Taylor.
Taylor says Iowa’s first weather stations in the late 1800’s documented just under 60 days a year with precipitation. By the year 2000, that number doubled. Since 1950 alone, Iowa’s precipitation has gone up 10 percent.
“Ten percent more rain since 1950. This increase doubled the amount of water that goes down the rivers of Iowa annually. Water is over the banks six times as often,” said Taylor.
That means six times as many flood events, eroding soil, stripping nutrients, making management more difficult.
“100 year floods could be expected close to about every 17 years,” said Taylor.
In general, we’ll continue to manage excess water in a lot of cases,” said Iowa State University Agricultural and Bio Systems Engineering Professor, Matt Helmers.
Helmers says that’s why producers are looking into ways to clean up or improve water quality.
“It’s a real issue and it’s not likely to go away in the future. We do see nitrate and phosphoru coming from our lands. I think it’s less about the mismanagement farmers are doing something wrong out there and more about the type of land use we have,” said Helmers.
Some of these practices aren’t new, but there is a renewed interest from farmers to use them again.
“I think we’ve learned some of these practices take patience to do. That’s not anything new but if we’re doing no till or cover crops, there’s a learning curve there. We’ve done some work that might be 24 to 40 dollars per treated acre to take out about 10 percent of a field and put it into strips. Overtime, we hope there are benefits as well,” said Helmers.
And there’s water management.
“That’s still a work in progress to understand what kind of yield impacts potentially we might have from drainage water management,” said Helmers.
Helmers says some of his new work has shown cover crops reduce nitrate leaching, but results take time.
Overtime, we may see some benefits with the cover crops by enhancing soil quality and health that might offset the cost of the cover crop,” said Helmers.
Looking for opportunities to slow the flow of water, even if more falls from the sky.
Helmers says to really make a difference, it will take a combination of practices. A recent study by the Center For Agricultural and Rural Development found most of these conservation practices by themselves are likely to achieve less than 9 percent reduction in nutrients.